A banana plantation in the Canary Islands is not the first place most people would associate with high fashion, but that’s where acclaimed shoe designer Manolo Blahnik grew up. Based in London since 1968, Blahnik left his home in Santa Cruz de la Palma in 1965 to study architecture at the University of Geneva and art at L’École du Louvre in Paris.
This unique confluence of rural upbringing and cosmopolitan interests endeared Blahnik to friends like Paloma Picasso who, in 1971, introduced him to Diana Vreeland, the then-editor of “Vogue.” “Your shoes in these drawings are so amusing,” she famously told Blahnik after looking through his portfolio. “Go make shoes.”
Make shoes he did, designing for a boutique in Chelsea called Zapata, which he bought and renamed after himself in 1973. The financing for the purchase was the result of Blahnik’s first big break in 1972, when 1960s fashion icon Ossie Clark invited him to design shoes for his latest collection. Blahnik never looked back.
Blahnik’s shoes have always had one foot, if you will, in fashion and the other in architecture. A very early design from 1971 for Kansai Yamamoto featured a brick-shaped shoe made out of cork and covered in patent leather. In 1976, a shoe called Guge featured straps that were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
At other times in his career, Blahnik has treated his shoes almost as figures, bedecking a simple blue mule from the 1980s, for example, with a contrasting coral necklace on the vamp. His slides and slippers often drip with costume jewels until they resemble a Miriam Haskell or Trifari confection from the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s. No wonder noted collectibles author Judith Miller has described Blahnik’s shoes as “jewelry for the feet.”
One of the last one-man operations in the fashion industry, Blahnik is known for his craftsmanship and attention to even the smallest details. Despite his success, he carves the wooden lasts (or molds) for his shoes himself, as well as the heels. And even though he has a factory in Italy turning out his high-heel pumps, mid-heel halters, and sandals with vine-like ankle wraps, the handwork on Manolos, as they are collectively known, is so extensive that less than 100 pair are produced a day.
Over the years, Manolos have accented the fashions of everyone from Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior to Calvin Klein and Isaac Mizrahi. Clients have included two of Mick Jaggar’s wives (Bianca and Jerry Hall), Princess Di, Jackie O., Madonna, and Marge Simpson who, though not a client in the strict sense, reveals the extent of Blahnik’s reach into popular culture. Indeed, the obsession of the Carrie Bradshaw character in “Sex and the City,” which debuted in 1998, made Manolo Blahnik a household name.
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More sole than sense: Shoe designer Manolo Blahnik's 6 steps to successCNN, September 25th
London (CNN) "Give the children some vodka!" Manolo Blahnik cries halfway through our video shoot. For the record, the "children" he was referring to are 29 and 27 and, sadly, we were operating cameras at the time so couldn't take him up on the offer...Read more
Feet, Film and Flaubert: A Conversation with Manolo BlahnikNewsweek, September 20th
Manolo Blahnik, sitting down for a conversation with Newsweek recently amid the stocked shelves of the brand new Rizzoli bookstore in New York City, declares: “One thing I hate, is to keep people waiting. Even for Madonna. I find it offensive. Lines...Read more
Manolo Blahnik's creative processFox5NY, September 15th
NEW YORK - For over 40 years, Manolo Blahnik has skyrocketed through the fashion industry, designing iconic footwear with an attention to detail that has garnered a long list of accolades including this week's Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion...Read more
Manolo Blahnik and André Leon Talley Talk Rihanna, Trash, and Classic StyleVogue.com, September 13th
Nominally, the talk, the first ever held at this Rizzoli location, was meant to promote Talley's book on the life's work of the legendary footwear designer—Manolo Blahnik: Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions—a venerable and massive tome that looks...Read more
Manolo Blahnik And André Leon Talley: A Lively Conversation At RizzoliFootwear News, September 12th
The designer's book, “Manolo Blahnik: Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions,” published by Rizzoli Books, debuted this week as part of the footwear veteran's major New York moment. On Wednesday, he received a major award from FIT and Thursday, Blahnik ...Read more
A Complete GIF History of How Carrie Bradshaw and Manolo Blahnik Became Sole MatesVanity Fair, September 10th
In honor of Rizzoli's recently released Manolo Blahnik: Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions and Blahnik's 2015 Couture Council Award, we thought we should take a look back at the designer's biggest fictional fangirl, Carrie Bradshaw, and her undeniable ...Read more
Couture Council Honors Manolo Blahnik, Raises $1 Million for the Museum At FITForbes, September 10th
Shoe and accessories designer Manolo Blahnik was honored with the 2015 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion on Wednesday at the David Koch Theater. The luncheon raised close to $1 million which will go towards supporting the Museum at FIT...Read more
The 'Sex and the City' shoe that inspired Manolo Blahnik's new bagNew York Post, September 8th
The "Hangi" bag (bottom right) features the same buckle worn on Carrie Bradshaw's stunning blue shoes in the "Sex and the City" movie. Photo: Courtesy of the Designer. Carrie Bradshaw once famously described herself as a “Fendi bag lady.” Had the ...Read more