Helen Lee – April 21 2005
Manolo Blahnik… doesn’t that name give you flash backs of that Sex and the City episode when Carrie was in the Vogue fashion closet and comes across a pair of supposedly mythical Mary Janes. Even if they didn’t fit her properly, she managed to squeeze her foot in them anyway.
That is the appeal that “Manolo’s” have had on the women of the world. You want them no matter what.
A friend of mine said to me once that she didn’t see what was supposedly so great about Manolo’s. And yes, she had seen them in person, their design, to her was not very striking or beautiful. But as I explained to her, with Manolo’s it is also about the fit and not just what they look like. After all women don’t go spending hundreds of dollars on a pair of Manolo’s just because it looks pretty (unless you have millions of dollars spare of course, then you can buy anything that looks pretty).
It is the design of the shoe that has women going gaga over Manolo Blahnik’s.
Born in Santa Cruz de la Palma in the Canary Islands in 1942, Manolo Blahnik was destined for big things. In 1965 after studying architecture and literature at the University of Geneva, Blahnik moved to Paris to study art. A few years later he’s working at fashion boutiques and part of the thriving art scene of London. He hit New York in 1971, where he met with the legendary Diana Vreeland, who was then the editor of US Vogue. After looking at his drawings she encourages him to “go make shoes”.
Fast forward a few years and Blahnik buys out Zapata, a boutique in Chelsea (England) that stocked his designs. By the late seventies, he broke into the US by creating a collection in Bloomingdales and opens up his first store the following year on New York’s Madison Avenue. A partnership with George Malkemus, then a young copywriter in Bergdorf Goodman’s marketing department helped Manolo’s take off in the US.
Over the next few decades, he collaborates with many fashion designers from Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, John Galliano, Perry Ellis, Bill Blass, Caroline Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Zac Posen. With his successful formula of designing shoes with a “good solid look that will wear forever” his already long list of clientele continues to grow, with everyone from the rich and famous to royalty wearing Manolo’s. It comes as no big surprise, after all this is a man that knows his shoes – he has been studying it for the past 30 years.
As he told Colin McDowell, a fashion writer and historian. “I know how to cut and still make it so that it stays on the foot. And the secret of toe cleavage, a very important part of the sexuality of the shoe. You must only show the first two cracks. And the heel. Even if it’s twelve centimetres high it still has to feel secure and that’s a question of balance. That’s why I carve each heel personally myself ‘on the machine and then by hand with a chisel and file, until it’s exactly right.’
With that kind of dedication, it is no wonder that he has women (and some men) going crazy over the newest and rarest pair of Manolo’s.
A selection of Manolo Blahnik heels from Bergdorf Goodman