This Week's Style Icon: Manolo Blahnik

Portrait of Manolo Blahnik. Photo: Retna Ltd.

Origin: Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands
Style Legacy: If it were possible to trace the origins of foot fetishes, we are sure Manolo Blahnik's shoes would be part of the equation. Once worn by the doyennes of fashion, the name Manolo, thanks to Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw, is the ultimate entré for those looking to be called fashionistas. Born on Nov. 28, 1942, to a Czech father and Spanish mother, Blahnik was raised with his younger sister, Evangelista, on a banana plantation owned by his father. A self-made designer, Blahnik was first inspired by the styles he saw while leafing through his mother's fashion magazines as well as watching her make her own shoes. From there, he developed a fashionable eye and realized he had a natural gift.

Although Blahnik never received any formal education in shoemaking, he sketches his designs, supervises the entire fabrication process, and creates his own advertisements. "I didn't need it," he told his friend Micheal Roberts about his lack of schooling, "because I have the best taste in the world." Indeed.

In 1970, after living in Paris for some years and working for a vintage clothing store, Blahnik moved to London and jumpstarted a career in photography. He worked as a photographer for the Sunday Times and immersed himself in the fashion scene, where he met fashion designer Paloma Picasso. But sketching shoes remained a passion. In 1971 Blahnik and Picasso took a trip to New York City. While there, he was introduced to Vogue's legendary editrix, Diana Vreeland. After viewing his shoe sketches she described them as "amusing," and encouraged him to pursue a career in shoemaking. A year later Ossie Clark, a '60s fashion icon, solicited Blahnik for his upcoming collection, and soon enough young Hollywood actresses and Vogue's editors were after his shoes.

Blahnik's first American store opened on Madison Avenue in 1979, a year after, his collection launched for Bloomingdale's. In the 1970s, when the fashion world was dominated by the platform shoe, Blahnik dared to reawaken everyone's love for the stiletto heel, which to this day remains a classic. When the platform trend resurfaced in 2006, Blahnik surprised shoe fanatics, designers, and stars everywhere when he developed the "heel-less" shoe that showed his brilliance as a craftsman. "I deplore platforms," he told André Leon Talley in the June 2006 issue of Vogue, in response to why he created the shoe with invisible height.


Blahnik has collaborated with notable fashion designers such Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera, and his designs have been featured on the catwalks of collections for Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Blahnik has also received numerous awards, including one from the Council of Fashion Designers in the U.S, along with Accessory Designer of The Year for 1990 and 1999, in Britain. He was even awarded by the king of Spain with La Medalla de Oro en Merito en las Bellas Artes, in 2002. A year later he became the first shoe designer to have an exhibition of his collections at the Design Museum in London.

Beautiful and defiantly modern, every one of his shoes embodies a sense of sophistication, individuality, and and sex appeal. With all this success Blahnik's business is surprisingly small with only one shop in London, a second in New York City and a third in Hong Kong, which opened in 1991. The appeal of his shoes, however, remain larger than life. --Vanessa Rodriquez

 

Share this 
Like this post? Contribute to the discussion!