Manolo Blahnik has become a household name thanks to Carrie Bradshaw’s fetishization of the master shoemaker’s skyscraper stilettos in cult television show Sex and the City. This cult of personality often overshadows his oeuvre of fantastical and highly accomplished works, and the true skill and craftsmanship of this iconic Spanish designer is often forgotten. It is not widely publicized that Blahnik always works alone and without assistants; he is solely responsible for the design and prototype of every shoe that bears his name. His are the shoes of choice for those looking for a handmade, artisan experience, recognizable for being light as a feather and adorned in ribbons, lace, sequins, beading, and all manner of accoutrements.
Manuel Manolo Blahnik Rodriguez was born in 1942 to a wealthy family; his father was Czech and his mother Spanish. At an early age, Blahnik would witness his mother making her own shoes with the help of the local cobbler. Having attended boarding school in Switzerland as a teenager, Blahnik went on to study arts and literature at university in Geneva in 1961 before continuing his education in Paris, where he studied art and theater design at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and École du Louvre in 1965.
In 1969, Blahnik made the move to London, where he took on various roles in retail, photography, and editorial. A chance encounter with American Vogue editor Diana Vreeland inspired Blahnik to pursue a career in footwear after she commented on his extraordinary and whimsical sketches of women’s shoes. Without any formal training in shoemaking, Blahnik used his experience working in the Chelsea shoe store Zapata to start designing and selling his creations. He soon established his eponymous label and first debuted his shoes on Ossie Clark’s catwalk in 1971. Since then, he has been commissioned numerous times to design shoes for Calvin Klein, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen to name but a few.
Blahnik has since garnered the respect of the industry in the form of multiple awards and accolades. In 1999 he was named Accessory Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council. In 2001 he received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art, and was made an honorary Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of the Arts. In 2003, a retrospective of the designer’s work was staged at the Design Museum, and in 2007 he was given the award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
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