When a fresh-faced Manolo Blahnik arrived in New York in 1969 to visit his friend, Paloma Picasso (daughter of Pablo), it led to a chance meeting with US Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland. Upon eyeing the aspiring designer’s sketches, Vreeland told him: ‘Young man: make things, make accessories, make shoes.’
These words were a turning point for Blahnik, who up until this point had been at a professional crossroads. The Spanish-born designer, whose parents were keen for him to become a diplomat, originally studied politics and law but his creative talents and ambitions proved hard to ignore. Blahnik eventually switched courses to literature and architecture before studying art and, later, stage set-design. Without Vreeland’s candid words of encouragement, perhaps the fashion world would not know the name Blahnik today – and the industry would be far less colourful.
Manolo Blahnik, the man and the brand, are the stuff of fashion legend. When he launched his eponymous brand in the 1970s, Blahnik’s glamorous designs celebrated sensuality and redefined femininity for the modern woman.
Famed for its stiletto heels and crystal embellishment, Manolo Blahnik footwear has long been associated with the feminine form but the designer has been creating men’s shoes for just as long. The major difference, however, is that these shoes were made on an ad hoc basis for Blahnik himself and his A-list companions; among them Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry and David Hockney, who frequented his Chelsea flagship boutique in the early 1970s. It wasn’t until 2013 that Blahnik launched a capsule collection of men’s rainbow-bright suede Oxfords (renamed ‘Witneys’) before launching his first standalone men’s store in Burlington Arcade last summer.
Blahnik’s designs for men are just as colourful and flamboyant as his feminine creations. This is most apparent in Blahnik’s dress slippers, inspired by everyone’s favourite 19th-century dandy, Beau Brummell. The new-season Mariogold velvet dress slippers feature intricate gold embroidery, while the buttersoft Mario suede collection comes in various shades – from bright yellow to raspberry pink to cow and zebra-print. Magnesio and Manolo – the latter being one of Blahnik’s earliest men’s designs – are pristine two-tone Oxfords to be worn with only the sharpest of suits.
Blahnik’s designs are never a case of style over substance, as even the most lofty Manolo Blahnik heels are renowned for their comfort. From his atelier in Milan, Blahnik personally oversees a team of skilled artisans through every step of the production process from gluing and stitching to glove-like moulding techniques. The new desert boot styles in autumnal shades, such as Rado in rich suede and shearling and the polished leather and suede safari-inspired Dolomite boots, are perfect for winter months. While the Warwick, a twist on the classic desert boot, is a dressier alternative for colder climes.
From rainbow-bright driving shoes to tasselled loafers and even casual leather lace-ups, Manolo Blahnik has created a comprehensive range of stylish, beautifully made shoes for the modern man keen to put a spring in his step.