Manolo Blahnik: The Cobbler Who Made Shoes For The Cinderellas

By Eva Alsis

This 72 year-old maestro in shoemaking is truly international in origins. He’s as multi-cultural as he’s multilingual. His father was a Czechoslovakian and mother was from the city of Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands, where he was born and raised. He did his degree in Art and Literature in Geneva, Switzerland, Studied Art and worked in France, moved to London, toured in the States and finally settled in Bath, England.

This internationally-famed shoemaker never falls in love with people but falls in love with Art!

His love for art is apparently deep-rooted. He changed his majors from Politics and Law to Art and Literature while at university. He took an art course in Paris and he kept to the ethics of art even in his personal life as well as in his shoe designs.

It’s a pleasant experience watching him hold a shoe in his hands as if it were a newborn baby and talk about it as if he were singing a lullaby to it!

Though this autodidact craftsman ‘created’ all sorts of footwear for women and men — flats, pumps, heels and stilettos, he says he’s all for the stiletto. It was he who brought back stilettos into the mainstream of the footwear fashion. (Stiletto = a knife or dagger with a long slender sharp blade and a needle-like point, used as a stabbing weapon; stiletto/stiletto heel = a long, thin, high heel on some ladies’ shoes and boots)

This out-standing designer in his star-studded 45-year career is known to take heels very seriously. He has readily accepted the changes in fashion and designed his shoes to suit the changing trends, but he never really veered from art ethics even at times when his shoes have suffered a downturn.

There is usually one woman behind every successful man but there have been three women behind our Mr Blahnik. Number one: his mother was never satisfied with the shoes she bought in the market, and so she made a local cobbler customize them to suit her liking, allowing young Malono to have an opportunity to see, touch and feel the shapes while they were molded; number two: his aunt with whom he stayed while attending university who influenced him, refined his sense of art and taught him to appreciate the beauty of luxury; and number three: Diana Vreeland, the then editor-in-chief of US Vogue, who, after inspecting the drawings of his shoe designs in 1970, advised this then budding entrepreneur to take up shoe designing and manufacturing as his principal occupation.

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The Sexy Fairy That Walked Manolos to Their Great Heights:

There is a romantic story behind the sudden popularity of this shoe brand. The footwear brand that had made only the elite section of the society strut in style and pride for quite some years became a household name because of the mention of ‘Manolos’ by the lead actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, in one of the episodes in the hit American TV series ‘Sex and the City’. When the character is attacked by a mugger she begs the mugger to take away anything he wants – watch, bag and jewelry but not her Manolos, meaning her Manolo Blahnik shoes. (but to no avail as the mugger takes away her Manolos, too!)

Consequently, ladies who had never heard of the name before made a beeline to the stores and boutiques for Manolo shoes. They just wanted to have a look at the designs even when they knew they couldn’t afford! And Sarah Jessica Parker became a real diehard fan of this brand herself, getting involved even in the Manolo business.

The list of occurrences of Manolo Blahnik being mentioned or shown in the movies and TV series is longer than some of the TV series themselves. Besides, there are pop singers who mentioned this brand in their songs to high-light the high-end glamorous lifestyle of their lovely characters. TV personalities, hip-hop movie actresses and those in the fashion world all go for Manolos when it comes to their footwear.

Manolo, who never learned the work of shoemaking of any kind as an apprentice or took any lessons in shoemaking but understood the trade by watching and talking to other shoemakers and traders, has had his passion for heels since his childhood. As a young boy, he was known to make ‘footwear’ with wrappers or foils for the lizards he found in his backyard garden on Canary Island home, and now, as a world class designer, he makes shoes for the likes of Princesses Diana and Middleton, with a pair costing from a mere $ 195 to an exorbitant $ 14,000.

Manolo has outlets and boutiques located in Athens, Dubai, Dublin, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Kuwait, Las Vegas, London, Madrid, New York, Seoul, Singapore and Stockholm, and online orders are accepted from and delivered to any corner of the world. In fact, in Dubai, one of our clients who is a fashion retailer is located very close to one of these outlets. Also located in the same region of Dubai is Amina Al-Jassim, a very talented fashion designer.

The prestigious department stores Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks stock up Manolo Blahnik lines in the United States and display them proudly.

Magazines staffs who interview this decent man with his artistic views and jovial conversational skill write volumes in praise of him and his brand, and then, without ever realising what’s happening to them, become his ardent customers. And reviews have always been encouraging and the critics always feel good writing critiques about Manolo, the first man to be featured on ML Vogue.

Manolo Blahnik, the Mozart of shoemakers, adores his work, rather his art. He has a story in his mind for every design he draws. For example, when he designs a tough looking piece, he has ‘Dolly’ in his mind, the young girl who walks a lot running errands for his mother and sisters but sneaks out a couple of hours to meet her boyfriend at the pond; there is this pouting Miss Tracy, the middle-aged secretary to a lively boss who thinks her boss is head over heels in love with her and so wears expensive makeup on her face and a pair of Manolo heels on her feet to expose her ‘lovely’ legs, and so on. His love for his creation is such that he’s literally kept a sample of every one of his creations, 30,000 of them (and still designing), arranged according to the date order, in panelled cupboards in his house… a trait we seldom find in other designers.

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Manolos are a favourite of the smugglers, too. In November 2011, a smuggling racket was busted by the customs officials. The smugglers from Spain and Columbia found a way to mold “cocaine” into replicas of very expensive Manolo Blahnik, confident that the brand name would keep the drug sniffing cops out of their way. (However, as in the Sex and the City episode in which the mugger took away the shoes, the cops took away the smugglers’ shoes, too.)

Manuel Blahnik Rodrigues is not a stranger to awards and titles. He is a CBE, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, bestowed on him for his services to Britain by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. And since 1978, he has received several awards, starting from a ‘special award’ to the ‘Outstanding achievement award’ in 2012 with ‘lifetime achievement award’ in 2011, and an honorary degree, a couple of ‘designer of the year’ awards, and several others in between.

Manolo might not have been so much excited about his receiving the Couture Council for Artistry of Fashion Award by the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, USA, but I was certainly thrilled on hearing  this news on The New York Times (April 8, 2015). With this award, Manolo became the first shoe designer to receive this prestigious international award.

To encourage the footwear art students at Royal College of Art, this legendary cobbler set up a competition in his own name, awarding the winner of each year with cash prize and further funding for technical support and material buying.

Photo Credit, Photo Credit