|Born||Manuel Blahnik Rodríguez
27 November 1942
Santa Cruz de La Palma, Spain
Blahnik was born and raised in Santa Cruz de la Palma, in the Canary Islands (Spain). His Czech father's family owned a pharmaceutical firm in Prague, and his Spanish mother's family owned a banana plantation in the island city of Santa Cruz de la Palma. He was homeschooled when he was a child. After he grew up, he attended a Swiss boarding school. Later, his parents wanted him to be a diplomat, and enrolled him at the University of Geneva majoring in Politics and Law. However, Blahnik changed his majors to Literature and Architecture. In 1965, he got his degree and moved to Paris to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts and Stage Set Design at the Louvre Art School, all while working at a vintage clothing shop. In 1968, he moved to London to work as a buyer at fashion boutique "Zapata" and wrote for L'Uomo Vogue, an Italian men's version of Vogue.
In 1970, Blahnik had a chance to meet Diana Vreeland, the editor-in-chief of U.S Vogue, while he was travelling in New York. He then presented his portfolio of fashions and set designs to Vreeland, at which point she looked him straight in the eye and said, "Young man, make things, make accessories, make shoes." She admired his shoe sketches and advised him to concentrate on designing footwear. Blahnik followed her advice and worked on designing shoes.
In 1972, Ossie Clark invited him to create shoes for his runway show. Also, he designed shoes for other London fashion designers, such as Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes. With a loan of £2,000, Blahnik bought Zapata from its owner and opened his own boutique. In 1974, Blahnik became the second man ever to be featured on the cover of U.K. Vogue (after Helmut Berger). In 1977, he sold his shoes in America, through Bloomingdales, and opened his boutique in the U.S. Since then, he has become a very famous shoe designer, and a symbol of pure classic style for the 21st century.
Blahnik's boutiques are located in London, New York, Las Vegas, Dublin, Athens, Madrid, Istanbul, Dubai, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore and Stockholm. Bloomingdales (for which he created his first American collection), Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue carry his line in the United States and newly opened in Dubai Mall. The company has signed a long-term deal with the shoewear retailer Kurt Geiger to operate Manolo Blahnik boutiques.
Blahnik was elevated to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2007 Blahnik was appointed as an honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order British Empire for his service to the British fashion industry.
Blahnik currently resides in Bath, United Kingdom and was awarded an honorary degree from Bath Spa University in July 2012.
One of Blahnik's greatest inspirations was his mother. She studied fashion magazines and interpreted the latest fashion trend on her clothing. Blahnik and his family often travelled to Paris and Madrid ordering clothes. His mother was always dissatisfied of the shoes from their hometown, so she made her own. She learned the rudiments of her craft from a local Canary Island cobbler and as a boy, Blahnik loved to watch his mother when she made beautiful shoes. He has inherited his mother's love for brocade and satin fabrics and recounted how, as a boy, he found a trunk filled with shoes by the famous Russian Yanturni all made from silks, antique lace and brocades trimmed with delicate buckles. All were light, elegant and feminine; attributes Blahnik later brought to his own designs.
When Blahnik was attending university, he lived with his aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, his aunt deeply influenced his fashion sense. He refined his tastes and learned to appreciate the beauty of luxury, art, and happiness. Blahnik recalled that according to his aunt, "happiness was having the single most elegant handbag ever made, in every color available."
Blahnik never studied shoe making formally. He learned the skills by visiting shoe factories and talking to pattern cutters, technicians and machine operators. At first, he designed men's footwear, but he immediately found that men's shoes design limited his imagination and lacked the element of fashion. When mainstream shoe style was still dominated by clunky platforms in the 1970s, he revived the sleek stiletto heel, which has since become a classic. Also, he dislikes wedges and believes in the power of heels and the sex appeal they convey.
Blahnik has worked wholeheartedly on his shoes. He not only draws the design of a pair of shoes, but also hand-crafts the shoes himself. He carves the wood last, which he then hand sculpts the shoe onto. When the time comes for mass production, he oversees every step to ensure each shoe is an exact copy of his original creation. He always keeps every one of his designs: 25,000 shoes are arranged in date order in paneled cupboards that fill up two adjoining houses in a Georgian terrace in Bath.
Like any great couturier, Manolo Blahnik's shoe styles are kept to small exclusive production numbers and his style signature is easily recognizable.
The Classic Manolo Blahnik's Stiletto Heels:
The 2003 song "Shake ya Tailfeather by Rappers Nelly Ft. Murphy Lee and P. Diddy contains the lyric "Manolos Ma-no-no's I can't tell".