With a career spanning 40 years, Manolo Blahnik has become one of the world’s most influential footwear designers. His shoes have spellbound an international set of adoring and loyal devotees across the globe.
Born in the Canary Islands to a Spanish mother and a Czech father, Manolo Blahnik studied languages and art in Geneva before moving to Paris in 1965 where he decided to become a set designer. On a visit to New York in 1970, he showed his theatre designs to Diana Vreeland, then editor-in-chief of American Vogue, who honed in on his shoes and encouraged him to concentrate on them.
Blahnik learnt the art of making shoes by visiting factories where he talked to machine operators, pattern cutters and technicians. By 1971, he was in London making shoes. A year later, Ossie Clark, then the most famous designer in London, used his shoes and from there his career blossomed. In 1973 he opened his first shop in London’s Chelsea.
Blahnik is a craftsman. The exquisitely shaped lasts and heels he creates for his shoes are still perfected with his very own hands. The lines and silhouette of his distinctive designs, however, remain instantly recognisable as unique, inimitable exercises in precision and balance, exquisite workmanship and luxury. “Shoes,” he says, “help transform a woman.”
From the flagship store in London, the brand has expanded worldwide.
The United States has recognised Manolo Blahnik’s exuberant brilliance over the years, with the CFDA honouring his talent with awards in 1987, 1990 1998. The British Fashion Council presented awards in 1990, 1999 and 2003, whilst his native Spain has presented him with La Aguja de Oro (2001) and La Medalla de Oro en Merito en las Bellas Artes, awarded by His Majesty Don Juan Carlos I, King of Spain.
Manolo Blahnik by Colin McDowell, the first book about Manolo’s life is published in 2000 written by the renowned fashion historian, who having spent a lot of time with the designer takes the reader on a journey through Manolo’s youth, travels and his biggest passion: work.
In 2003, the Design Museum in London opened a major exhibition of his work. To coincide with this event, Thames & Hudson published Manolo Blahnik Drawings, a collection of some of the best sketches Blahnik uses at the outset of the design process, and which are as coveted as the shoes themselves.
In 2005, his lifelong friend Eric Boman published Blahnik by Boman (Thames & Hudson), a photographic celebration of Blahnik’s shoes, with an introduction by Paloma Picasso, whom they both met in the 1970s. Also in that year, he was asked by Oscar winning costume designer Milena Canonero to design the shoes for Sofia Coppola’s movie, Marie Antoinette which also went on to win an Academy Award for Best Costume.
In November 2007, Manolo Blahnik was awarded an Honorary Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of his status as one of the most successful and influential designers of our time. In September 2008 he was also presented with the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award. In November 2011 Manolo received the Footwear News Lifetime Achievement Award in the United States. In 2012 he was awarded the British Fashion Council Outstanding Achievement Award and the very prestigious Premio Nacional de Diseño de Moda in Spain.
In September 2013 Manolo Blahnik for the very first time staged a presentation at London Fashion Week and in 2014 in New York City. 2015 was a very exciting year for Manolo as among other things he held a presentation at London Collections: Men in January, designed a capsule collection of limited edition socks with the German brand Falke, launched a new line of clutch bags, published a book entitled Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions and was awarded the 2015 Couture Council Artistry of Fashion Award by the Couture Council of America.
2016 has seen the opening of a second store in London, 44 years after his first store opened. The new women’s and men’s boutique is located in the quintessentially British Burlington Arcade.