“The fact is, sometimes it’s really hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes. That’s why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun.” Carrie Bradshaw pronounced this memorable phrase in one of the episodes of perhaps the most relatable and iconic TV series of all times, Sex and the City. Thus, one of the first cult symbols that comes to mind when reflecting on a charismatic New York journalist are her stunning blue satin Manolo Blahnik shoes.
Why and how does the shoe designer make the hearts of so many women beat a little bit faster? This and many other questions are answered at the incredible exhibition Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes in the heart of the fashion district of Milan, Palazzo Morando (via Sant’Andrea 6), until April 9th 2017.
The shoe heaven is opened Tuesday to Sunday from 9am-1pm and from 2pm-5:30 pm. The mesmerising venue holds 80 drawings and 212 shoes that trace back the career of the legendary designer.
From the Canary to London: Manolo Blahnik’s Origins
The origins of Mr. Blahnik take place as far from the trivial “fashion” locations as possible. In fact, he was born in Santa Cruz de la Palma, in the Canary Islands, in 1942. His mother was Spanish, while his father was Czech, hence the particular surname that reflects one of the mountains in the Czech Republic.
The life journey of the shoe architect took a number of twists and turns since he went down a few different paths before finding the one. In Geneva young Manolo studied international law, literature and art, proceeding to study the last one in Paris. After moving to London in 1965, Blahnik finally managed to become a part of the art scene by working as a buyer in a fashion boutique and writing for L’Uomo Vogue. One of the ambitions of the young man at the time was becoming a set designer, inspired by artistic geniuses like Cecil Beaton and Oliver Messel. However, everything changed when in New York he met Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor-in-chief of US Vogue. She admired his drawings and suggested concentrating on shoe design, which was a turning point towards his way to success.
The only things I never actually had to be taught were how to hold a pencil and how to swim. They both came naturally. Almost like a birth right” says the designer.
In fact, the love of arts and drawing came to Manolo Blahnik through his mother, who adored painting with watercolours.
Inspirations & Innovations
So what differs Manolo Blahnik from the other shoe designers? Perhaps it is the fact that he could reflect the essence of a person, an artwork or a historical period in a shoe. A rare talent, a limitless imagination, and a daring particularity – all these features raise Blahnik into the rank of an artist.
In a unique way, the construction of shoes and their rare materials, like silk ottoman or handmade embroideries of lace, contributed towards giving a soul to the footwear. Surprisingly, some models needed up to 67 separate pieces to be created.
It is a firm belief of many that a true genius seeks inspiration from everything. For example, the tall fisherman’s boots, common in the Canary, were artistically transformed into a fashionable piece in the collaboration with Vetements. There also exists their denim interpretation with Swarovski crystals for one of Rihanna’s music videos. The diva Brigitte Bardot and supermodel Linda Evangelista, the mistress of Lord Nelson and the muse of George Romney, Lady Emma Hamilton and the famous Swinging Sixties designer Ossie Clark: they all inspired a number of impeccable designs.
Moreover, artists and architects gave Blahnik a new perspective. He elaborated on the paintings of the avant-gardist Piet Mondrian, the supremacist Russian painter Kazimir Malevich and the French modernist Henri Matisse. The targets of his interests were also the masters of cubism, Pablo Picasso and the Ukrainian-born French female artist, Sonia Delaunay. Lastly, it is worth mentioning the architectural sandal inspired by the New York Guggenheim museum. A true work of art.
Manolo & Cinema
One of the most notable collaborations in the career of the artist is definitely Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, filmed in 2006. In order to replicate the designs that reflected the extravagant epoch, Manolo Blahnik studied various 18th-century shoes in the V&A museum in London.
When I was a boy, my mother read Stefan Zweig’s Marie Antoinette biography,” states Blahnik, so the artist was thrilled to create the footwear for the film.
Recognition & Awards
The designer managed to find inspiration in everything, from nature to art to people and countries. Therefore, he received Queen Elizabeth of England Honorary CBE (2007); Rodeo Walk of Style Award (2008); SCAD André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award (2010); Footwear News Lifetime Achievement Award (2011); and the British Fashion Council Outstanding Achievement Award (2012). Additionally, he got the Premio Nacional de Diseño de Moda in Spain (2012) and the Couture Council Artistry of Fashion (2015).
“Do what makes you happy. Do not think of them as shoes but as masterpieces”. This was the advice given by Diana Vreeland to an ambitious designer. And so he did. Did he make the right choice? Abshoelutely!