Birthplace: Canary Islands
Awards: CFDA Special Award, Accessory Design, 1987, 1989 Fashion Council of America Award, 1988, 1991 British Fashion Council Award, 1991 Balenciaga Award, 1991 American Leather Award, 1991 Antonio Lopez Award (Hispanic Institute), 1991
Some women admit to having more than 100 pairs of his provocative pumps. They are "as good as sex, and they last longer," says fashion chameleon, Madonna, one of the most devoted (and famous) fans of his fabled footwear (O'Koeffe, p. 156). Manolo Blahnik is to the late twentieth century shoe what Godiva is to chocolates... he creates delicious confections for women's feet.
If it is true, as some say, that to learn about a woman's personality, one should study her feet, it is no wonder that women covet his creations. Not only are his shoes said to transform the appearance of the leg by elongating its look, but the materials used in the making of his ultra-feminine and sexy shoes are always witty and surprising. Blahnik, who takes his inspiration from Madeleine Vionnet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Roger Vivier, became interested in shoes at an early age. His mother was an avid collector of lavish pairs made of brocade, satin, lace, and other fabrics which inspired Blahnik in his later work.
Blahnik studied international law at the University of Geneva, in accordance with his father's wishes. Later he turned to architecture and literature, intending to become a set designer. He then moved to Paris, where he studied art and continued to compile a portfolio of costume and set designs for the theater. When Vogue editor Diana Vreeland saw his work, she immediately recognized his talent and encouraged him to concentrate on shoes.
During the early 1970s originality in fashion was paramount. Blahnik moved to London, where new materials were being used to create wacky footwear—shiny leather, appliques, clunky stacked heels, futuristic shapes and colors were all the rage, and Blahnik was in step with the moment, so much so that Ossie Clark, then London's hottest designer, asked Blahnik to create a line of shoes for his company. He opened his first shop, Zapata, in 1973, and it quickly became a popular stop for fashionable Londoners. Elio Fiorucci, Milan's then reigning avant-garde fashion king, commissioned Blahnik to create colorful plastic sandals, or jellies, which were sold in Fiorucci stores worldwide. In the 1980s Blahnik turned his attention to designing more sophisticated shoes which reflected elegance and desirability, attracting the attention of the world's best-dressed women.
Blahnik's shoes go through approximately fifty processes before they are hand finished in Italy at his factory. Admitting to having "little tricks," Blahnik participates in production himself, working with great care to craft and finish his flattering slippers. From the beginning of his career, both the shoemaker and his shoes have enjoyed media attention. Photographing them is a pleasure; the vivid colors, the jeweled details, the trims of marabou and mink, the ribbon-tied ankles—all of these glamorous, yet refined, touches make his shoes instantly recognizable. Designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro, and Bill Blass, commission him to design shoes for their runway shows. Blahnik's elegant looks and lively personality have served him well. See also: Madeleine Vionnet; Salvatore Ferragamo; Roger Vivier; Ossie Clark; Elio Fiorucci; Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Un-garo; Bill Blass.
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