“If god had wanted women to wear flats, he wouldn’t have invented Manolo Blahnik,” said Alexandra Schulman, editor of Vogue Magazine. Ever since the extravagant and dizzying high heels graced the feet of the ladies from the hit TV series ‘Sex and the City’, the name of this Spanish ‘stiletto guru’ has been synonymous with the product.
Manolo Blahnik was born in 1942 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife to a Czech father and a Spanish mother who ran a banana plantation. He inherited his love for beautiful fabrics and unconventional designs from his mother. She had her shoes made by Don Cristino, the most famous shoemaker on the island.
At a young age, Blahnik saw a container full of shoes by Yanturni, a Russian shoe designer. Made of brocade, silk, lace and embellished with pearls and beads, these shoes were without exception elegant and light, and inspired Blahnik’ s later models.
Geneva, Paris, New York
Since his parents were already internationally oriented, Blahnik chose to study literature and art in Geneva. He then continued in Paris with an education as a set designer.
During a visit to New York, Vogue Magazine editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland sees some of his designs. She found the shoes in them so beautiful she advised him to follow this line of design. All subsequent shoe designs of his hand proved how good Vreeland’s insight has been.
Extravagant time and designs
The atmosphere that reigned in the 1970s was adventurous, colourful and lively. The discovery and mass acceptance of the miniskirt drew attention to women’s legs and as a result, shoes also came into the limelight.
Fresh ideas flourished and formed a perfect starting point for Blahnik’s theatrical interpretations of all these trends. His designs are without exception extravagant, unconventional and special because of the excellent craftsmanship, a perfect fit and use of materials that no one had ever seen applied to a shoe before.
His heels were higher than usual and feet became fashionable. From the moment he was allowed to design a collection of shoes for the famous Ossie Clark, then the most famous fashion designer in London, there was no turning back for Blahnik’s success.
He chose the Spanish word for shoe ‘zapata’ as the name for his first store, which he opened in London in 1973. Today he uses his own name, but from day one the small, personal salon was a Mecca for shoe-addicted women. “Shoes,” Blahnik believes, “help transform a woman.”
From his first store, his collection and fame gradually expanded to the rest of the world. His name and artful design drawings appear in the world’s most prestigious fashion magazines.
‘Fashion should be entertaining’
Manolo Blahnik knows how to turn his imagination and talent into desirable footwear. His designs are always complementary to the foot and without exception reflect his motto that ‘fashion should be entertaining’.
Blahnik combines craftsmanship with the most modern techniques and knows how to transform materials such as leather, suede and silk into the most refined, glamorous shoes.
Ungaro, Calvin Klein and YSL
Great designers also increasingly turned to Manolo Blahnik to design shoes to complement their collections. For example, during a show by Fiorucci, for example, the public’s attention drifted to the lower regions of the catwalk to admire the special shoes.
Blahnik’s footwear has appeared in collections by the likes of Emmanuel Ungaro, Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent. He can count eccentric film stars and pop idols among his clients.
In his early days, for example, he only designed shoes for men, which were enthusiastically worn by Mick Jagger. Today, Madonna, Sarah Jessica Parker and Paloma Picasso swear by his models. The shoes once elicited the comment from Madonna: ‘They last longer than sex’.
Factory in Milan
All Manolo Blahniks are made at the factory in the suburbs of the Italian city of Milan. There, the stiletto guru regularly appears in person to check all models personally for fit and such like. Of all the models produced, only a small selection end up in his collection.
This sparse production adds to its popularity, which has taken on mythical proportions since the Sex and the City series.
His shoes are available from €250. The more expensive ones can cost three times that price. Fortunately, for the worshippers with less well-filled wallets and an equally ardent love for unique shoes, the trade of Manolo Blahniks on second-hand goods websites such as Ebay is very much alive.