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Manuel "Manolo" Blahnik Rodríguez (; born 27 November 1942) is a Spanish fashion designer and founder of the eponymous high-end shoe brand.
Display of a Manolo Blahnik shoe
Blahnik was born in Santa Cruz de la Palma, in the Canary Islands (Spain), to a Czech father and Spanish mother. His father left Prague in the 1930s to avoid rising fascism; his grandparents disappeared in the 1950s after the Communists took charge. His mother's family owned a banana plantation in the island city of Santa Cruz de la Palma, where he grew up alongside his sister, Evangelina. 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 1969, he moved to London to work as a buyer at fashion boutique "Feathers" and wrote for L'Uomo Vogue, an Italian men's version of Vogue.
In 1969, Blahnik had a chance to meet Diana Vreeland, the editor-in-chief of U.S Vogue, while he was traveling 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 1971, Ossie Clark invited him to create shoes for his runway show, he also designed shoes for other London fashion designers, such as Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes. From 1971, Blahnik was selling Manolo Blahnik shoes for Zapata. With a loan of £2,000, Blahnik bought the Zapata Shoe Company 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, Blahnik created his first American collection. These were sold in 1978 through Bloomingdales. Blahnik opened his first boutique in the US in 1979.
In 2000, Blahnik, together with Neiman Marcus, launched the first commercial virtual reality online showroom featuring 3D models of his shoes. The entire collection was sold out online within three weeks.
Blahnik currently resides in Bath, United Kingdom and was awarded an honorary degree from Bath Spa University in July 2012.
Manolo Blahniks as worn by television personality Whitney Port
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 with the shoes from their hometown, so she made her own. She learned the rudiments of her craft from a local Canary Islandcobbler 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, Pierre Yantorny 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 and style. He refined his tastes and learned to appreciate the beauty of luxury, art, and happiness and beauty. Blahnik recalled that according to his aunt, "happiness was having the single most elegant handbag ever made, in every color available."
Blahnik never studied shoemaking 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 shoe design limited his imagination and lacked the element of fashion so he focussed on woman's shoes. When mainstream shoe styles were 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 is the subject of the 2017 documentary film: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, written and directed by Michael Roberts
The staff of the TV show Angel asked Manolo Blahnik for permission to use their company name on screen. The company then insisted that the characters wear the products even if the shoes were not shown on camera.
In the popular long-running TV show Sex and the City, Blahniks are a particular favorite of the character Carrie Bradshaw and as a result are mentioned frequently. A notable episode illustrating the brand's prestige is "What Goes Around Comes Around" from Season 3 in which Carrie is mugged. During her assault the assailant demands she surrender her shoes, demanding them by the brand's name.
They are referenced multiple times in Duck Dodgers whenever any sort of footwear defect occurs, typically with the grumbled phrase "Cheap counterfeit Manolo Blahniks".
In the second episode of the fourth season of ABC's Revenge, Emily Thorne is advised to "look beneath [her] Manolos" when she is searching for somebody who, according to a tracking device, is "right on top of her".
In chapter 23 of the internationally bestselling novel The Rosie Project, Rosie says "any time you need entertaining, I could use a pair of Manolo Blahniks," and the main protagonist, from the word "pair", guesses that she is referring to shoes.
In a Japanese high-school teen drama, "Hana Yori Dango", the female main character was given a pair of Manolo Blahnik during a party. The scene mentioned a saying, "A girl should wear nice shoes. Because the shoes will take her to a calm and beautiful place."
Mentioned in the song "Sex is in the Heel" from the musical Kinky Boots.
Referenced on the mixtape "Woke Alone" by rapper Mr. Bond.
Five-inch Blahnik stilettos mentioned en passant by Aunt Lydia in Chapter 20 of Margaret Atwood's "The Testaments".