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Manolo Blahnik has never surrendered to fashion’s whims and trends. The designer, who’s made clear his distaste for fashion’s current state of affairs, has always followed his own instinct and style. True elegance should be found in intelligence and respect for tradition, he claims. Blahnik has designed more than 20,000 pairs of shoes throughout his illustrious career. After the pattern is done, he follows traditional shoe making techniques, and christens his creations with names as original as Paiggi, Guge, Gruyère or Aircraft, to name just a few. They are authentic works of art, inspired by Visconti’s Italian films of the 1950’s, and by the work of Spanish artists such as Velazquez, Zurbaran or El Greco.
Beginnings of a master shoemaker
Manuel Blahnik Rodríguez was born on November 28, 1942 in the Canary Islands, to a Czech father and a Spanish mother. He graduated from Genoa’s University of Architecture and Literature at age 23. He would later continue his studies at Paris’ University of Fine Arts.He moved to London in 1968 and worked at a shoe boutique named Zapata, while collaborating with Vogue Italy as a writer. However, his passion for design would guide him back to the path of creating shoes for women.One of the most important moments of his career came in 1970, when he met Diana Vreeland, Editor in Chief of Vogue America, in New York City.
After reviewing his prototypes, Vreeland convinced him to devote all his energy and resources exclusively too designing shoes. Two years later Vreeland introduced him to Ossie Clark, the iconic British designer, who in turn, invited Blahnik to design shoes for his collections.In 1973, and with a £2,000 loan, Blahnik bought Zapata, which became his first boutique. It was the 1970s and high platform shoes and bulky boots plagued the fashion runways. In characteristic contradiction, Blahnik brought back the stiletto to represent the nascent brand.
Idolized by the world’s most elegant women
In 1974, Blahnik became the first man to grace the cover of Vogue Britain, posing with actress Anjelica Huston for the lens of David Bailey. Four years later he moved to New York to establish the firm’s foothold in America. New York designers such as Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and Isaac Mizrahi welcomed him with open arms. Manolo Blahnik was then poised to become the star shoe maker of his generation.Women from all over the world have expressed great admiration for the Spanish designer, whose influence in today’s fashion is undeniable. His best ambassadors, models and spokespersons are his clients, who wear his shoes on the red carpet or down the world’s most fashionable streets.
“Manolos,” as the shoes have become known too experienced fashionistas, are light as a feather and have starred in countless films and TV shows.It was Sarah Jessica Parker, as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, who brought mass recognition to Blahnik. Her character on the show would rather die than give up her “Manolos” during a robbery in one of the series’ episodes. Moreover, Blahnik designed dozens of shoes exclusively for the films that spun off from the series.
Backed by prestigious awards
Manolo Blahnik is the recipient of numerous international awards: Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA in 1987, 1990 and 1997), Neiman Marcus (2000), the Golden Needle in Spain (2001), the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, Spain (2002), the Canary Islands Gold Medal (2003), and Accessories Designer of the Year from the British Fashion Council (1990-1999).In addition, he was awarded an Honorary Title of the Order of the British Empire in 2007.
In 2017, he won the British Fashion Award and the National Award for Fashion Design in Spain, leaving him with € 30,000. Such is his cachet as a designer that in 2003 the Design Museum in London dedicated an exhibition to his oeuvre. The London exhibit had great international impact. Blahnik still maintains his original boutique in London’s Chelsea neighborhood, but his stores around the world, in places as far away Korea and Japan, Russia, Spain, France and United States, confirm his global appeal.He moved his residence to the historic English city of Bath, but Manolo Blahnik has never forgotten his Spanish roots. He donated €30,000 to the Canary island of Palma, a place for which he feels a deep affection. ■