Imagine Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, Uma Thurman, Sharon Stone. Imagine legendary icons of yore, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, or the lesser known but equally glamorous Dorothy Dandridge and Anna Mae Wong. Imagine still, all of these women dressed, coiffed, manicured, pedicured, smartly powdered, ever so lightly perfumed, ready to step out wearing hideously clever, cheap designer knock-off shoes? Vanquish the thought!
The images of these elegant women would absolutely be compromised without the benefit of an exquisite pair of shoes like Manolo Blahnik’s to set off their respective outfits. In the hands of the maestro, a pair of shoes achieves the status of a Jaguar luxury car, the understated sexiness of precious stones and imbues a woman with the graceful air of a gazelle.
The extravagance of his inventions, its suppleness of syntax, is a new vocabulary for shoe fashion, due to Blahnik’s hands-on approach to his own designs. His shoes are variously pointed and spiky, round-toed and flat. He often sketches, paints and intensely studies form, function, materials, color and overall harmony of design. The end results are coveted Manolo gem-like miracles for which most women pine.
Hence, Stephanie Marsh’s The London Times article, “King of the heel,” 2005, was subtitled, “Manolo Blahnik, God’s gift to well-shod women everywhere.” An Ireland based blogger, Ray Senior, claimed, “Women scream at the mere hint of his name and would sell any one of their children to get their hands on his shoes. Seriously. We aint kidding,” he intoned, with much alarm. Madonna vows that his shoes are better than sex; Sarah Jessica Parker, so in love with his shoes, perpetually wears them—it is believed—except on the day before she gave birth. Suffice it to say that for a woman not to have ever worn Manolo Blahnik shoes in her lifetime would be the equivalent of her having no feet to stand on.
In a sketch, Manolo Blahnik is the offspring of a Spanish mother and Czech father. He spent his childhood in the Canary Islands and is conversant in several languages: English, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German. He trained briefly as an architect in Paris and did a stint—in part to assuage his father’s dreams—as an interpreter at the United Nations. After university, he considered a career as a set designer, but the legendary fashion icon Diana Vreedland presciently advised the young man to pursue shoe design. He did, and the rest is history. My curiosity drives my creativity and that shows in my designs.
My curiosity drives my creativity and that shows in my designs.
We don footwear for both quotidian and eventful purposes. Shoes hold a particular sway in women’s psyches to the extent that few men could ever comprehend. Some feel empowered by merely mounting a pair of high heels, others feel a keen erotic stir, and some achieve an unquantifiable completeness that exceeds the benefits of a yoga meditation. In other words, the exceptional luxury of wearing a pair of Manolo Blahniks—and not just any high-heels—bears the weight of meaning beyond fashion.
Consider Carrie’s unforgettable one liner in Sex and the City, when she was robbed in the street: “Please sir. You can take my Fendi baguette, you can take my ring and my watch, but don’t take my Manolos Blahniks,” she pleaded. Pathos aside, the scene is testament to the gravitas attributed to Mr. Blahnik’s shoes.
Jackie Kennedy, a huge Blahnik fan, reportedly ordered twelve pairs each month. Audrey Hepburn loved the elegance of his high-heels. The late actress continues to inspire the designer, who beams, “The imprint of Miss Hepburn is absolutely, totally present.”
Some women have a mad devotion and passion for his shoes. Not unlike Imelda Marcos and her notorious trove of shoes, a well-to-do lady in California has her own Blahnik shoe gallery-cum-shrine in her home where each pair of the designer’s shoes is on display, encased in glass.
The modest sage, Mahatma Ghandhi, observed, “Three-quarters of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world would finish if people were to put on the shoes of their adversaries and understood their points of views.” One could conjecture that had Ghandi known, he would have devised a means to furnish his adversaries with Blahnik shoes, thus, no shortage of their empathy.
The purchase of a pair of elegant Manolo Blahnik’s extraordinary shoes is a smart investment in oneself as it engenders joy, love, beauty, self-esteem and confidence. So, if you are blue, and feel like “putting on the Ritz”, Manolo pumps is the perfect tonic!
In relation to your shoe-drawings, are your lines more Ingres, Matisse, Picasso or Aubrey Beardsley?
Oh, I would love to even come close to one of those geniuses. How can I compare myself to them? Sometimes I can spontaneously get immersed in Ingres and the divine purity of his brushstrokes. Matisse and Picasso always visit my mind as well.
What medium do you typically draw in and why?
I usually draw in China ink. I love the consistence and feel of the liquid.
What other mediums did you experiment drawing with before arriving at your present favorite?
I experimented with acrylic and oil paints in the 70s. Later I tried watercolours until I arrived at the ink. I have always also used the Staedtler pencils to sketch. I still use them. 3H Staedtler is my favourite.
Why is a preparatory sketch so important to your shoe design process?
When I get inspired, I put the idea immediately down on paper. Then I develop it and work on it. Usually I end up with the original, final sketch not long after the initial idea comes to me. I don’t do a separate preparatory sketch.