I think it’s safe to say that shoes are my weakness. I recently had a spring clean and threw out over 60 pairs, but it hardly made a dent in my collection. My obsession started when I first became a fashion editor, so my collection embodies everything from edgy and sexy by Helmut Lang (the original, I mean), Alaïa and Maison Martin Margiela to feminine creations by Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and my current favourite, Rupert Sanderson.
None of these, however, can come close to my very first pair of designer shoes – a monochromatic sandal with cut-outs by no less a personage than Manolo Blahnik. They look just as good now as they did when I bought them over 15 years ago.
While today’s generation is obsessed with the designers du jour, real shoe aficionados still pledge allegiance to Blahnik. Why, you may ask? Because he single-handedly created the designer shoe phenomenon. When he started in the 1970s, shoes were considered a complement to runway looks. After Blahnik, shoes became the look. He paved the way for others – the Charlotte Olympias, the Nicholas Kirkwoods – to follow, and created a whole new capsule world of luxury.
Born to Spanish and Czech parents, Blahnik was raised on a banana plantation in the Canary Islands. He moved to Paris in the 1960s to study art at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but it was legendary American Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland who encouraged him to pursue a career in shoe design. He settled in London and started designing for a boutique called Zapata and for Ossie Clark.
Blahnik eventually bought Zapata in 1973, before launching his own line. His signature pointed-toe stilettos garnered him a legion of fans in the 1980s, and he was soon collaborating with designers ranging from Calvin Klein to Galliano. The next thing you knew, Princess Diana was spotted wearing his designs, Madonna declared them better than sex, and Carrie Bradshaw was obsessing over her “Manolos” on Sex and the City.
So what is it that makes a pair of Blahniks stand out from the rest? Even today, the 70-year-old designer works alone on every last one of his designs, starting with a sketch and then carving each wood last and heel himself. Despite the fact that he has no formal training, he professes to have an innate understanding of what women want. In the words of the maestro himself, “I’ve got the best taste in the world”. No doubt many would agree.
So after almost 40 years in the business, it only seems fair that fashion retailer Lane Crawford is paying tribute to this icon with a series of collaborations and limited-edition items. Blahnik has reissued 10 styles from his archives dating as far back as 1974, including a pair of black patent ankle tie sandals with red spikes and sexy mesh lace-up stiletto booties (Bul denim lace-up boots in first picture, $1,540).
He has also partnered with several renowned luxury brands to create additional items. Among them are glove label Causse Gantier, Globe-Trotter (striped trolley case in second picture, $2,040), Fortum & Mason, and New York-based stationer Connor, who has designed hand-engraved note cards and pads featuring Blahnik’s shoe sketches (third picture, $110). The joy is in knowing that whatever you buy, you will be investing in a unique piece of fashion history.