The Master of the
Read up on the iconic shoe brand Manolo Blahnik from the creator himself to prepare for the newest exhibit at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum.
By Stéphane Le Duc
If there’s one dreamy name in the shoe industry, it’s Manolo Blahnik. For over 45 years, this exceptional creator has continuously seduced stars such as Rihanna, Anna Wintour, Madonna, and the iconic Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw, who was willing to sell her soul for a pair of Manolos. This summer, the public is invited to admire the mastery and the talent of this timeless designer in an exhibition entirely dedicated to him in Toronto.
The Bata Shoe Museum invites us to come and admire this artist’s life work, one that he has dedicated to making the silhouette even more elegant. “All I want is to make women pretty,” said the designer in his youth, who never doubted what the future held for him. He had a culturally rich education in the Canary Islands that allowed him to experience the works of Velásquez, of El Greco, and the cinema of Cocteau and Visconti. He then went on to study law and literature in Geneva. Afterwards, he dreamt of becoming a theatre decorator, and drew costumes with passion while working in a vintage fashion store in Paris. Thanks to his friend Paloma Picasso, he met the iconic Diana Vreeland, the editor of American Vogue at the time who, upon seeing his drawings, declared that he should create shoes. It was then, in 1971, that his future was set.
“ All I want is to make women pretty…”
Blahnik would rapidly run from atelier to atelier to meet with countless manufacturers, trying to understand the work of artisans and discover the secrets of shoemaking. When he finally entered the industry, he was quickly recognized for his talent: English designer Ossie Clark immediately placed an order for a shoe, now called “The Ossie.” After purchasing a boutique on Bond Street in London in 1973, he has focused on perfecting his craft like a true artisan. He designs with the same keenness as he did when he first started, sculpting his form in wood without ever forgetting to refine the heels of his shoes which are truly works of art.
“A big part of my inspiration comes from my childhood, from my passion for cinema, especially older films, and from my trips. I draw sketches, then I visit factories in Italy, where I choose the materials and the colors. I suppose that I have a huge advantage thanks to my studies. I studied the art of shoemaking for decades. I know every single creative and production process, but the key is balance.”
Balance, but also his exceptional talent, has allowed him to create his own universe, that has in turn continuously inspired the biggest fashion creators in the world, who, to this day, ask for his help for their own shows. Stunning collaborations were also born from this talent, like with clothing brand Vêtements or superstar Rihanna, which was an adventure the designer wanted to pursue for many reasons. “It is an exciting collaboration, and I am absolutely charmed by the result… Working with Rihanna was an incredible experience, and her dynamism, her passion, her creativity, and her style were reflected in the stunning designs of the shoes.”
The Art of Shoes exhibition is an homage to one of the most rewarded designers who has taken over the fashion world, winning three CFDA Fashion Awards, the prestigious Premio Nacinal de Diseno in Spain, the British Fashion Council Outstanding Achievement Award, and was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II with a CBE. Blahnik has explained his success and rewards with a lot of humility, stating that, “Honestly, I don’t know [how I became so successful]. Maybe because the comfort of women is essential to me.”
Two-hundred pairs of shoes and 80 sketches are only a fraction of his personal collection of over 30,000 pieces. It is with honour that Toronto takes on the role as closing city of this collection’s adventure around the world.