When it comes to fancy footwear, it’s hard to match Mr. Manolo Blahnik for craftsmanship or sheer devilishness. Blahnik began his career in bohemian London amongst artist David Hockney’s vibrant social set, a bohemian clique that included Celia Birtwell, Peter Schlesinger, Eric Boman, and Paloma Picasso. Since peddling his first creations from a Chelsea boutique in the early ’70s, the Spanish-Czech designer’s elegant and eccentric creations have graced the twinkling toes of starlets from Catherine Deneuve and Betty Catroux to Vogue‘s Anna Wintour—who is rarely seen out of the designer’s nude Callasli kitten heels.
Celebrating Blahnik’s 40th anniversary, Paris’s Printemps department store opened Manolo Blahnik: 40 Years of Glamour last night, an exhibition dedicated to Manolo’s far-flung inspirations and some of his most spectacular archive pieces, chosen by the store’s creative director Maria Luisa. “Paris is paramount for fashion, always was—always will be,” said Blahnik at the exhibition’s opening cocktail reception. “The only thing that worries me is that the artisans are all moving somewhere else.”
From the rearing stallions of Blahnìk’s native Spain to a La Dolce Vita display of Fornasetti porcelain, a series of 12 ornate scenes showcase the designer’s most outlandish and intricate styles from past and present collections. One wall is splashed with Marimekko’s famous Unikko wallpaper framing a group of floral stilettos.
“When I was studying in Geneva, I had a Marimekko wall. I love the continuity,” mused Blahnìk, all smiles in a sky-blue flannel suit.
Another set is dedicated to theater and draped in red velvet (with protruding gloved hands), while further along, Marie-Antoinette pilgrim pumps are scattered around a gold-rimmed tea set and pyramids of Ladurée’s rose macarons. There’s even a Christmas tree.
To mark the occasion, Blahnik has reissued his iconic Ivy sandal in emerald suede in an edition of 600 pairs exclusive to Printemps. The style takes pride of place upon a heaped pile of glossy red cherries. “It was one of my first—for Ossie Clarke’s show at the Royal Court Theatre in ’71,” explained Blahnik. “I have a real sense of affection for it.”
As he does, evidently, for Europe’s new generation of shoe designers, several of whom came to fête their idol. “I love Pierre Hardy, he is here tonight too!” exclaimed Blahnìk. “Also Nicholas Kirkwood and Charlotte Olympia. They are doing great things.”
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