If you were regularly watching Sex In The City during its original run, you might have noticed the main character Carrie Bradshaw’s particular love for Manolo Blahnik high heel shoes…several times over. It was arguably a great free plugging of Manolo Blahnik shoes from the long-running TV show.
It’s hard to think of high-end women’s shoes without the name Manolo Blahnik. His artisan works and meticulous craftsmanship are just a few of his selling points. The unique and precious offerings have earned him seemingly endless lines of wealthy fans and clients, plus put him at the limelight of the shoe fashion world.
Early Interest in Shoes
Blahnik was born Manuel Blahnik Rodriguez in Santa Cruz de la Palma, (Canary Islands) Spain, on November 27, 1942. He is of Czech and Spanish ancestry. As a boy, he probably learned the art of shoemaking from his mother, who used to make Catalan espadrilles. She herself learned this craft from the local shoemakers in the Canary Islands. From this, he also developed a love of shoes and shoe designing. He also inherited his mother’s penchant for the luxurious and the unorthodox. At the same time, he himself favored elegant and ultra-feminine styles – these are the very characteristics he would later apply in his future designs.
The name of Manolo Blahnik’s mother was Manuela, and she was a passionate reader of fashion magazines. She also enjoyed shopping for clothes in fashionable places like Madrid and Paris. In order to have the latest styles on hand, she would also request their local island dressmaker to copy certain dresses from the fashion publications she read. Her shoes were a unique addition, as they were designed by Manuela herself and brought to life by the local cobber. It’s widely believed that Manolo Blahnik got his first inspiration from none other than this vivacious woman.
At 15, Manolo Blahnik stayed with his father’s cousin for some time in Geneva, Switzerland. Here, he experienced the thrill of many theatres, restaurants, and operas.
At first Blahnik was mainly studying in Geneva, intending to become a diplomat as his parents hoped for. However, he had a change of heart and left Geneva to study art in Paris for a while. Then he moved to London in the late 1960s and worked at a fashion boutique named Zapata. This was located on the city’s Old Church Street.
Blahnik was once a writer for Vogue Italia. In 1970, he went to the United States and visited New York, where he met Diana Vreeland by chance. Vreeland was the editor-in-chief of the American Vogue at that time. After Blahnik showed his portfolios and set designs to her, Vreeland told him that he should, “go make shoes.” He learned a bit more about the technicalities and the art of shoemaking. By 1971, hardly a year after that meeting, he was already creating his own shoes.
While working at the Left Bank Shop GO, a trendy shopping place, he also met Anouk Aimée, the actress, and Paloma Picasso, the well-known jewelry designer. These connections later helped him in his own career.
In fact, it was Picasso who encouraged Blahnik to move to London. He started working at a trendy boutique named Feathers there. At this job, he again got the opportunity to meet several celebrities and renowned names in the areas of fashion, culture, and showbiz. Already, he was beginning to be recognized for his unique designing and style. However, Blahnik wasn’t anywhere near satisfied with his life or career and was still looking around for a vocation. This searching eventually led him to New York City.
The Beginnings of the Shoe Business
In 1969, Blahnik started working in NYC with the store Zapata. The designer first began to make men’s shoes, but eventually found the designing styles too limiting for his comparatively adventurous taste and imagination. Blahnik’s break came in 1972 when the English designer Ossie Clark invited him to create shoes for his upcoming fashion show.
This was during the early 1970s, where platforms and clunky heels ruled the mainstream foot fashion. However, Blahnik wasn’t too keen on the wedge-like designs. He hence decided to turn his focus onto making stilettos. The result? His shoes stood out from the rest, and stilettos have become Blahnik’s permanent design ever since.
The designs of the shoes were certainly unique and attracted a lot of attention. However, Blahnik wasn’t formally trained as a shoemaker and hence had little idea of structure or shoe construction. He didn’t let this lacking faze him but consulted a shoe manufacturer in London in order to improve his technical skills.
In 1973 Blahnik bought Zapata from its original owner and opened his first boutique there. His store was frequented by many celebrities, including model and Mick Jagger’s then-wife Bianca Jagger. Soon, his name reached other fashion circles around the world. As a result, his shoes soon graced the runways and catwalks all over the world.
It also didn’t hurt that his high heels found high-profile fans in Madonna, Victoria Beckham, Rihanna, Kristen Stewart (as her Twilight character Bella Swan wore a pair of Blahniks at her wedding) and Sarah Jessica Parker. The latter, of course, was the Blahnik-loving main character Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City. Hollywood’s A-listers continue to love his shoes; hence making sure the brand would remain a popular one for quite some time.
While Blahnik’s empire has extended to many parts of the globe from New York to Seoul, and his pricey heels are seen on upscale stores like Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, his headquarters remain on Old Church Street in London.
Like many great designers, Blahnik also demands perfection in quality and uniqueness of style in his every shoe creation. This is especially important in the world of high couture, which the designer understands. That’s why you could never think of high-end women’s shoes without the name Manolo Blahnik. His name is still synonymous with quality, originality, and elegance.