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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Kitten heels give stilettos the bootThe Australian, May 22nd
In fact, the style is a consistent bestseller at Manolo Blahnik (whose trademark buckled Hangisi style has something of the bling Pilgrim Father about it) and Prada (where plain leather pumps come in a variety of colours every season). Anna Wintour is...Read more
High heels? Sorry, I'm not going back thereThe Australian, May 22nd
The heels of fashion editors have no more contact with hard reality than those of a prima ballerina: they are permanently cantilevered 10-15cm above the ground, courtesy of Manolo Blahnik, or Christian Louboutin, or Aquazzura (whose 10cm heels are ...Read more
Cannes flatgate: Of high heels, feminism and conformityZee News (blog), May 22nd
To think that a cheap road side pencil heel is preferable to Manolo Blahnik jewelled flat belle or a Jimmy Choo glitter open toe. The horror, the horror! For those who think stilettos empower women, make them look taller and hence more elegant – it's...Read more
Miranda Girl: Style Guide to The Devil Wears PradaPaste Magazine, May 21st
After Personal Assistant Andy Sachs commits herself, literally head over heels, to the position as lackey for head honcho, the deft and cunning Miranda, Sachs dives headfirst into the world of Chanel, Manolo Blahnik and, of course, Jimmy Choo...Read more
BOOMERANG: Accountability is a lost artWicked Local Braintree, May 21st
The problem with this world is that no one wants to take responsibility for their actions anymore. Nothing is ever our fault. A train derails in Philadelphia due in all likeliness to excessive speed. Is it the engineer's fault? No, because he banged...Read more
In London, Creative Types Celebrate an Old Architect's Restored ApartmentNew York Times (blog), May 19th
The first public tour of the apartment coincides with the opening of a new exhibition, “Inspired by Soane: I Found This And Thought of You,” which sees Manolo Blahnik, Paul Smith, Christopher Bailey and Zaha Hadid amongst those to create postcard...Read more
SJP embarrassed by shoe line nameTV3.ie, May 16th
"I picked up the phone and I called George Malkemus [CEO of Manolo Blahnik] and I said, 'This is ridiculous, and forgive me if this sounds presumptuous, but would you ever consider producing a shoe line with me?' And he said, 'Be at my office tomorrow ...Read more
Manolo Kombat: Inside New York's Most Vicious Sample SalesNewsweek, May 14th
In an effort to keep the several thousand shoppers who hope to attend the sale orderly, the employees of Manolo Blahnik hand out carnival tickets with section numbers on them. The brightly colored little slips are pressed firmly into their palms...Read more