Car­rie Brad­shaw’s go-to shoe brand struts into Toronto’s Bata Shoe Mu­seum.

Manolo Blah­nik: The Art of Shoes strolls into the Bata Shoe Mu­seum.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Jac­que­lyn Fran­cis

I had a di­vine shoe to­day,” says leg­endary footwear de­signer Manolo Blah­nik, talk­ing about his work as if it were a spec­tac­u­lar meal. Blah­nik is on the phone from out­side Mi­lan, where he’s vis­it­ing a fac­tory that is work­ing on an up­com­ing col­lec­tion. He tells me that it’s the first clear day af­ter a long stretch of rain and that from where he’s sit­ting, he can see Monte Rosa, a mas­sif con­tain­ing the sec­ond-high­est peak in the Alps. I feel like I’m on a jour­ney, chat­ting with an amaz­ing seat­mate. But back to the shoe: “It’s very sur­re­al­is­tic,” Blah­nik con­tin­ues, de­scrib­ing (at my re­quest) the best shoe he worked on that day. “Maybe a cross be­tween the build­ings of Al­var Aalto and the colours of [pause]... mud.” Aalto is the late Fin­nish ar­chi­tect who has been “gone for many moons” (he died in 1976) but con­tin­ues to in­spire the 75-year-old de­signer to this day.

Ar­chi­tec­ture has of­ten played a role in Blah­nik’s work (there were traces of Josef Hoff­mann in his Fall 2017 col­lec­tion), but that is just a frac­tion of what goes in and out of this wildly creative mind af­ter more than 45 years in shoe de­sign. It’s also one of the many rea­sons why Blah­nik is ripe for the ca­reer ret­ro­spec­tive Manolo Blah­nik: The Art of Shoes, which opens May 15 at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Mu­seum. Guest cu­ra­tor Cristina Car­rillo de Al­bornoz se­lected al­most 200 pairs of shoes and 80 orig­i­nal draw­ings, in­clud­ing the looks Blah­nik cre­ated for di­rec­tor Sofia Cop­pola’s 2006 fash­ion feast Marie An­toinette. Ide­ally, this ex­hi­bi­tion will grant a glimpse into the de­signer’s jour­ney from a priv­i­leged up­bring­ing on Spain’s re­mote Ca­nary Is­lands to be­ing one of the most iconic brands in the world. Blah­nik will open the ex­hibit. “It’s one of the great mys­ter­ies of my life,” says Blah­nik of his ca­reer path. “I was at the Univer­sity of Geneva studying law. I con­sid­ered do­ing a sec­ond se­mes­ter but thought, ‘I can’t do that.’ I jumped to lit­er­a­ture, which was my first love. Then, some­how I thought, ‘Why should I study lit­er­a­ture or the pages of books from a teacher?’” Next, he be­gan do­ing fash­ion il­lus­tra­tions, even­tu­ally spend­ing time in New York with his friend Paloma Pi­casso, who con­nected him with the late, great

Vogue ed­i­tor, Diana Vree­land, so she could see his pic­tures. “Mrs. Vree­land said to me, ‘Get into shoes.’ And here I am!”

Since then, Blah­nik has be­come syn­ony­mous with heels—high ones—that are hand­made and painstak­ingly la­dy­like. He still carves the wooden forms for the shoes he makes, and long be­fore Sex and the City made him in­ter­stel­lar fa­mous for be­ing Car­rie Brad­shaw’s prover­bial Achilles heel, Blah­nik dressed the jet­set elite. (Bianca Jag­ger fa­mously wore Blah­nik heels the night she rode around Stu­dio 54 on a white horse.) If the man him­self was ini­tially over­whelmed by his Sex and the City fame, he now re­flects on the ’90s and early aughts with ab­so­lute fond­ness.

“That pe­riod—the ’80s and ’90s and the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury—was a re­ally im­por­tant time for fash­ion,” he says. “Now, fash­ion is di­luted. It’s very con­fused. We have won­der­ful de­sign­ers who are just work­ing for big cor­po­ra­tions. Be­fore, we used to be a métier. Now, it’s a money ma­chine.”

That’s not to say Blah­nik has given up on the next gen­er­a­tion of footwear de­sign­ers. He cites Pierre Hardy, Benoit Méléard and Gian­nico as footwear lines that im­press him but, thank­fully, shows zero signs of slow­ing down him­self. When asked what col­lec­tion he is most proud of, he de­clares, “Maybe the next one!”

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