Manolo Blahnik is a name synonymous with some of the world’s most desirable and luxurious footwear. Blahnik’s creations offer the unrivalled glamour and timeless appeal that comes from decades of honing his craft, alongside design skills that ensure his creations remain in a league of their own.
Born in the Canary Islands, Blahnik studied art in Paris, intending to become a set designer, before moving to London and starting to explore the world of shoes. ‘It was a very good time to design shoes as not many people were doing it,’ he recalls. In 1970, he was introduced to the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland; her timely advice to the young Blahnik shaped his future destiny.
‘I was very lucky to be pointed towards shoe design by Ms Vreeland, who advised me to “focus on extremities” after she saw my sketches,’ says Blahnik. ‘So I started with my ideas, and a lot of them excited people as they were nothing like they have seen before; fruits and flowers on shoes [for example].’ It was this focus on the extreme, with an emphasis on inventive shapes and rich, exuberant colours, which distinguished Manolo Blahnik designs from the competition.
The epitome of 90s cool
Blahnik’s signature designs include the heeled sandal with straps across the ankle and toe. The style rose to prominence in the mid-1990s, a period when the designer’s shoes were creating a buzz and being worn by the likes of Diana, Princess of Wales and Anna Wintour. For Hollywood stars such as Mariah Carey and Jennifer Aniston, the strappy sandal worn with bare legs and a little black dress was the epitome of minimal 90s cool.
‘It’s a very simple strappy sandal,’ notes Blahnik. ‘I have done them for decades and they are always a huge hit as they are very flattering. Just two straps across the foot.’ A new take on the design is produced each season; the Chaos shoe of the spring/summer 2014 season was an open-toed sandal in black patent leather with a closed back and an ankle strap – its elegant simplicity allows the foot to remain on show.
An immaculate finish
Blahnik, who still shapes his own lasts, says that women love the simplicity of his designs and the fact that they are so easy to wear. The most important element of his shoes, he explains, is the design, which has to be ‘creative and original. I love coming up with new ideas. But the execution is also very important. The fabrics have to be of the best quality, the last and heel have to be perfect, the balance has to be right and the finishing has to be immaculate.’
For spring/summer 2015, the strappy sandal design comes in the form of the Coraletta, with toe and ankle straps adorned with a plethora of tiny resin corals. Coral is a key theme in Blahnik’s spring/summer 2015 collection, inspired by the island of Sicily, where the designer has spent many holidays. It’s not the first time coral has featured in his collections; in 2000 the Tortura design was a heeled mule embellished with coral decorations hanging from tiny threads. ‘The shape and design of the shoe is timeless, but the corals add something special and are very me – obviously we use resin,’ says Blahnik of the new-season Coraletta. ‘Coral fishing is a huge part of Sicilian culture. Every time I think of corals I think of Claudia Cardinale, and who could be more iconic?’
Cardinale, a Sicilian actress who became a star of the 1960s and 70s, possesses sensual, Mediterranean looks that perfectly complement the allure of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes. ‘She is a timeless Italian beauty and one of my favourite actresses of all time,’ Blahnik notes. ‘She starred in my beloved film by [Luchino] Visconti, Il Gattopardo, which I must have watched hundreds of times.’ Cardinale, alongside Sophia Loren and Paz Vega, is one of a select group of women that Blahnik has cited as muses for his designs, which have included collaborations with London labels Liberty and Victoria Beckham.
For as long as the fashion wheel keeps turning, Manolo Blahnik’s sandals will continue to follow his winning original design formula: an alluring combination of precision and beauty.