HISTORY OF MANOLO BLAHNIK
Oh no here it comes…another Sex in the City reference in this here blogsphere. Blame Carrie Bradshaw and her obsession with True Fashionista Manolo Blahnik shoes, as she so famously quoted:
“You can take my Fendi baguette. You can take my ring and watch but you can’t take my Manolo Blahniks.”
You can also thank her for helping to make this gifted and well-deserving fashion shoe designer a household name. The world is now all about his True Fashionista stilettos, his style, high-profile clientele and yes, his sketches.
Born in the Spanish Canary Islands to an affluent family headed by a Spanish mother and Czech father, Blahnik grew up in the beautiful, lush setting of a banana plantation owned by his mother’s family. He was homeschooled in this mainly isolated locale, recalling years later his childhood activity of using foil chocolate candy wrappers to make shoes for the many lizards roaming the land. It wasn’t until a conversation with future Vogue Editor in Chief Diana Vreeland many years later that he would again think about creating shoes.
A shoe designer literally by chance, Blahnik was studying art and set design in Paris when, in 1969, he was introduced to Ms. Vreeland who was then director of the Met Costume Institute. Entranced by his sketches for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, in particular his drawing for Hippolyta’s True Fashionista high-heeled sandal decorated with ivy and cherries, she told him, “Young man, stick to the extremities and make shoes!”
Blahnik took her advice and started visiting the best Italian shoe factories, interrogating the artisans about their craft. By 1971 he developed his first shoe for a runway show by then-prominent British fashion designer Ossie Clark. It was so well received that soon after he opened his first boutique in Chelsea. Manolo was famous in those early days for never leaving his shop. Instead, celebrities and socialites like Bianca Jagger, Anna Wintour and David Hockney found themselves drawn to the atmosphere of creativity happening within. When platforms became all the rage in the 70’s, Blahnik refused to comply, stating that he found them boorish and clunky, designing True Fashionista sleek stiletto heels and encouraging his female customers to adopt this more feminine look.
In 1983, the Blahnik line finally arrived on U.S. shoes with the opening of his New York shop on West 54th Street. With help from Ms. Wintour, he was soon creating collections for Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi and Oscar de la Renta, among others. By the 90’s and early 2000s, his True Fashionista designs started getting screen time beyond Sex in the City, and in 2007 he won the best costume design Oscar for Sofia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette. In 2017, a biography film directed by Michael Roberts entitled The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards was released, followed by a two-year traveling exhibition of his work called The Art of Shoes.
These days, Blahnik is still designing shoes in his adopted country of England at either his office in Marylebone or his home in Bath. He can also be found in his Italian factories developing samples by hand, dressed in his characteristic white lab coat with silk handkerchief tucked in the breast pocket. Manolo is also a known Instagram addict and is purported to have a secret account that he uses occasionally to comment anonymously on the company posts.
Ah yes, the sketches. Drawing is also an activity so close to Blahnik’s heart that his company has created a collection of his shoe sketches stripped back to the outlines, designed to be downloaded and colored at home as a way to help deal with the isolation of lockdown during the pandemic. They invite you to share your creations on Instagram with the hashtag #ManoloBlahnikSmiles. This program is part of the Smile initiative happening in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation.
Another way to get in touch with your inner Manolo Blahnik is to check out the latest collection offered at True Fashionistas, where the selection is continuously updated and only a fraction of the original prices. Shop online or in-store and get your Blahniks on today.