Manolo Blahnik: The Milestones

Previously described as the ‘sultan of slippers’, Manolo Blahnik has an incredible talent for making and designing shoes. To this day, there hasn’t been a single shoe sold under his eponymous label that isn’t designed by himself. So, as we celebrate his 76th birthday, we look at the milestones of Manolo’s fairy-tale career, so far.

The Early Life
In 1943, Manolo was born in Santa Crus de la Palma, Canary Islands. His mother was Spanish and his father Czech. After being home schooled for most of his childhood, Manolo enrolled at the University of Geneva, where he studied Politics for one term before switching to Architecture and Literature Studies. In 1965, as a post-graduate, Manolo moved to Paris to study Art at the École des Beaux-Arts and Stage Set Design at the Louvre Art School, all whilst working at a vintage clothing shop.

The Meeting
Manolo moved to London where he worked as a buyer for Zapata, a boutique clothes store, and also wrote for L’Uomo Vogue, the Italian men’s version of Vogue. In a meeting organised by Paloma Picasso, Manolo was given the opportunity to meet then editor-in-chief of U.S Vogue, Diana Vreeland, who historically advised the talented designer to focus on curating shoes. After admiring his shoes sketches, she apparently said to him, “Young man, make things, make accessories, make shoes.”

The First Boutique
After re-educating himself in the art and process of shoe making, Manolo returned to London with the aspiration of designing shoes. After small design roles for the likes of Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes, designer Ossie Clark invited Manolo to curate a collection of shoes for his runway shows; this marked Manolo’s first collection. With a loan of £2,000, Manolo bought Zapata from its owner and opened his own boutique in Chelsea, selling shoes under his eponymous label, Manolo Blahnik.

The Vogue Release
In 1974, after a few years of incredible success, Manolo became the second man to grace the front cover of U.S Vogue. From there, business only got better for the Spanish designer. He sold shoes via Bloomingdales, and proceeded to open a boutique in the U.S also. Close friend and regular client, Bianca Jagger, solidified Manolo in designer royalty when she donned his designs to her historic white horse Studio 54 entrance.

The Retail Presence
After opening his first boutique in London, Manolo continued to open stores across the world. Now he currently operates boutiques in New York, Geneva, Madrid, Barcelona, Moscow, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Singapore and Tokyo. Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman also carry his lines. Manolo Blahnik recently signed a long-term deal with the shoewear retailer Kurt Geiger to operate their boutiques.

The Awards
Being more and more recognised for his jaw dropping talent, Manolo received his first award from the CFDA, the ‘Special Award’ in 1987. He went on to receive the ‘Accessory Designer of the Year Award’ twice from the BFC abd once from the CFDA. He was also awarded ‘The Stiletto’ award from the CFDA. In 2001, Manolo received the ‘La Aguja de oro’ and ‘La Medalla de Oro en Merito en las Bellas Artes’ awards from his homeland, Spain. He was presented with these by the King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos I. A couple years later, Manolo was honoured with an exhibition dedicated to his work in London’s Design Museum. The display was so popular, during the run of the exhibition, Thames & Hudson, world renowned publisher of creative books, published ‘Drawings’ - a collection of the designer’s sketches.

The Films
In 2005, Manolo officially made his movie design debut when asked by Oscar Winning costume designer, Milena Canonero, to design for her upcoming movie, Marie Antoinette. This was recognized with raving reviews as he went on to win the Academy Award for Best Costume. To this day, Manolo’s designs can be seen all over the big screen, most famously in the HBO series, Sex and the city, and its movie alternatives, too.

In 2007, Manolo was awarded a CBE for his services to the British fashion industry; a career journey that revitalised the stiletto heel and gave confidence to everyone lucky enough to wear them.