Objects of Desire:
The World of Manolo Blahnik
by Rebecca Johnson
Photographed by Hanna Tveite
Perhaps no other designer is as apt as articulating desire as Manolo Blahnik, who since the 1970s has translated that seemingly ineffable quality into the most coveted shoes in the world. Jackie Kennedy called them “better than sex.” Beloved by the stars of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, the show brought Manolos to a new generation, cemented Manolos as the heel destined for pounding New York City’s streets. Over the years, they’ve been seen on historic queens (Sofia Coppola’s filmic, anachronistic take on Marie Antoinette) and pop icons—witness Rihanna’s collaboration with the designer. This season, the recent arrival of Manolo Blahnik: Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions, a new, richly illustrated, definitive monograph, signals the perfect moment to revisit his storied career and begin (or add to) a Manolo collection.
Since the early days, Blahnik has never wavered in his belief in the power of a classic stiletto, and his seemingly infinite variations on the form, as well as exquisite takes on slides, sandals, mules, flats, boots, and kitten heels, are testament to his uncanny instinct. Today the legendary Spanish designer lives among some 20,000 of his own creations. Who wouldn’t want to?
“Shoes are the quickest way for women to achieve instant metamorphosis.”
As timeless and essential as the perfect little black dress and a string of good pearls, a pair of Manolos is nonetheless endowed with polished and daring distinction that instantly, effortlessly elevates anything from jeans to ball gowns.
Blahnik draws inspiration from doyennes of inimitable style: screen sirens Brigitte Bardot and Anna Magnani, fashion icon Anna Piaggi, and his own mother, who traveled to Europe to order clothes from Balenciaga, and was so particular about shoes she learned to fashion her own. But it was at longtime Vogue editor Diana Vreeland’s urging more than 40 years ago, that the then-budding set designer switched vocations and began making his first shoes, constructed on hand-shaped heels and lasts, as they are to this day.
A consummate perfectionist, Blahnik himself still draws each of the 300 styles he makes each year, from sculptural heels that soar with architectural ambition to blue suede shoes with subtle cool. Provocative in form, elegant in execution, each is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and artistic vision: fantastically light as a feather and yet utterly solid. Blahnik vividly amplifies and magnifies our notions of allure. Utilizing supreme, luxurious materials, his shoes are synonymous with modern opulence.
“People walk differently in high heels. Your body sways to a different kind of tempo,” Blahnik has said. And also: “You put high heels on and you change.” But even the master of the sultry, skyward heel can come down to earth, at least for a minute. As it does in the form of a ballet flat, imaginatively adorned with a buckle embellishment, and lined in supple leather. Blahnik puts women on a pedestal—literally. If a look begins from the ground up, a wardrobe begins with the fundamentals. It’s no wonder that his shoes inspire such rampant devotion. As his friend André Leon Talley puts it: “He lives for beauty.”