The Art of Shoes

A Portrait of Manolo Blahnìk

There are the Kelly and Birkin by Hermès, and the Jackie O by Gucci, very famous bags inspired by timeless style icons: Grace Kelly, Jane Birkin and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. There are the So Kate court shoes by Louboutin, designed for a lover of the brand, Kate Moss. All are examples of an item taking the name of a person who has worn it often or inspired its design. However, the only designer to have given his own name to all his collections, the sign of a unique and recognisable style that goes beyond the seasonality of fashion, is Manolo Blahnìk, who, with his Manolos, has become more of an icon than his icons.

―Designed as masterpieces

Seventy-four years of age, of Spanish descent, he studied architecture and literature in Switzerland, art and stage design in Paris, and is a baronet of the Queen of England, a land he has chosen as his home and where he opened his first shop in 1973. A rich, cultured and varied life that had taken other paths and in which the turning point was the meeting in 1970 with Diana Vreeland, the talented editor-in-Chief of Vogue America. While examining his drawings of stage sets, she noticed a detail of an ankle wrapped in Ivy and cherries and exclaimed: “Focus on the extremities and design shoes! Do what makes you happy. Don’t think of them as shoes but as masterpieces!”


And so, without any proper training in the craft of shoemaking, Blahnìk began gaining experience in the best factories, first in England and then in Italy, where his best creations are still made, turning himself into a true master shoemaker. Starting from the strictly handmade design, as beautiful as an illustration, and continuing with the creation of the model, its geometry and the techniques for cutting, sewing and constructing the shoe, Blahnìk is able to turn an object of everyday use into a work of art. “It’s wonderful that they treat me like an artist, but I’m just a shoemaker and I just make stupid shoes,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

The Manolo Blahnìk. The Art of Shoes exhibition curated by Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz and promoted by the City of Milan, with its 212 shoes divided into 6 sections and 80 drawings, told us something more about this extraordinary craftsman, who has been deeply influenced by Italian art and culture and who draws inspiration from his passions: architecture, art, literature and film, botany, the culture of countries such as Italy, Russia and Spain, as well as 18th-century history.

An inclination towards beauty that embraces everything but does not exclude the rest, because, as he has stated: “Without trash we wouldn’t be able to see the beauty of things: it’s necessary!”

Valentina Monti
All photos courtesy of MANOLO BLAHNÍK. The Art of Shoes
Curated by Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz; Palazzo Morando – Costumes Moda Immagine / civicheraccoltestoriche.mi.it