know your legends
The king of shoes turns his gaze towards the male gender
King of shoes Manolo Blahnik turns his gaze towards the male gender with a new store in London
FOR A MAN revered as the king of shoes by the global fashion cognoscenti, Canary Islands-born Manolo Blahnik's debut in fashion was hardly auspicious. The acclaimed designer started making clothes in 1972; Vogue editor Diana Vreeland pronounced his designs awful and suggested he make shoes instead. And so he did – but for men. A year later, finding the task too conventional and restrictive, Vreeland suggested Blahnik switch to women's shoes. Noted. He designed pairs for British designer Ossie Clark; two years later he was the first man to grace the cover of UK Vogue. And the rest is history.
Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto is a stunning retrospective by one of the world's most influential fashion figures. Along with guest curator Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz, Blahnik – who is still the creative director and chairman of his privately run family-owned firm based in London – has hand-selected close to 200 shoes and 80 original drawings epitomising the essence of his work. Much of his contemporary mythology stems from being the go-to brand for Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw and his designs for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.
Blahnik's story has kept step with today's retail rush – ironically, given his origins, he will open his first men's shoe store in London's Burlington Arcade in July. His brand has 290 points of sale in 33 countries, with free-standing stores in cities including London, New York, Hong Kong, Dubai, Madrid and Moscow. There is a newly launched e-commerce platform with Farfetch, and in Asia, his company has partnered with the Bluebell Group to expand in markets, starting with Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.
Meanwhile, the Vogue connection endures. US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour says she “can't remember the last time I wore anyone else's shoes.” Blahnik made a pair of slingbacks for Wintour in 1994 which she has worn in numerous iterations since. Crossing boundaries between fashion and art, Blahnik still makes every pair of his shoes. “I think of each new season as an evolution, not a change in style,” he says. If footwear is every stylista's fetish purchase, then Blahnik's largely to blame. The legend continues.