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A travelling exhibition showcases 45 years of Manolo Blahnik’s work

The final product of the TarquiniusThe high priest of heels refuses to go low. That much is clear from “Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes”, a travelling exhibition currently open at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. There’s silk, satin, lace, sequins, stones, crystals, tassels, ties and lots more — all mounted on towering stilettos, the signature style of Manolo Blahnik, one of the most famous and influential shoe designers of our time.The Toronto landmark, which houses over 13,000 artefacts relating to 4,500 years of the history of shoes, is the last and only North American stop for the exhibition that has already been to Milan, St Petersburg, Prague and Madrid.The sketch of the Tarquinius | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumThe sketch of the Tarquinius | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumOne of the first items on display is the sketch and model of a 1971 design aptly called “The Brick”. The platform shoe was one of Blahnik’s earliest creations and was pivotal in shaping his work, but not in the way you might think. “That was actually the shoe that made him turn away from platforms and towards the high heel,” explains Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum. “I think he felt that the architecture was so ponderous, he preferred the more traditionally feminine high heel.”Manolo Blahnik | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumManolo Blahnik | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumBlahnik had found his style, and would stick with it through the years, even as he managed to incorporate a wide range of influences and inspirations in his designs. The exhibition features shoes inspired by Spanish painters Goya and Picasso, New York’s iconic Guggenheim Museum and the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, among others.The 9-to-5 high boot | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumThe 9-to-5 high boot | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumBorn in 1942 in the Canary Islands to a Spanish mother and Czech father, Blahnik was inspired early on by the lush vegetation around him. He created his first collection for English designer Ossie Clark’s 1972 fashion show, and the green sandal with ivy leaves and cherries on the straps is considered his breakthrough design. “He is constantly being inspired by an amazing array of things. It could be drapes in an 18th-century building, tile work in a church, traditional footwear from Spain. He’s constantly taking those inspirations and incorporating them in his shoes, and you see that active mind just by looking at his collection,” says Semmelhack.The Sepulcrus | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumThe Sepulcrus | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumThe exhibition features nearly 200 shoes and 80 original sketches spanning over four decades, all sourced from Blahnik’s own archives. The show is divided into separate sections like Gala, which features ornate evening shoes, and Marie Antoinette, showcasing shoes designed for Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film about the extravagant French queen. But Sex and the City, the television series that made “Manolo” a household name, is conspicuously absent. That was deliberate, according to Semmelhack. “I think because that connection is so strong, it’s almost overplayed. This is an opportunity to say, ‘This is what I’ve actually been doing’, because the majority of the shoes in this gallery have been chosen for their artistic merit and they tell a different story than that one,” she says.The Josefa | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumThe Josefa | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumIn a world of changing trends and passing fads, Blahnik has retained his influence not just due to his creativity and quality, but also by staying true to his style. “He’s not a designer who goes, ‘I did high heels last year and I’m going to do wedges this year and I’m on to sneakers next year’. He really has remained true to the kind of classic architecture of his shoes, which is the high heel,” Semmelhack notes.The Campari | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumThe Campari | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumBlahnik’s creations, with their avant-garde designs and price tags of upwards of a thousand dollars, are clearly meant for a niche market. In the debate between fashion and utility, they fall firmly in the first category. But that doesn’t mean they are not functional, argues Semmelhack: “High heels are often criticised for their lack of function, meaning that they’re uncomfortable to walk in. But this is ignoring their larger cultural and social function, which is to establish gender and to convey ideas of status and personality — it’s just that mobility might not be their principal function.” Every one of Manolo Blahnik’s stilettos, you might say, has a point.The Faustina | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe MuseumThe Faustina | Photo Courtesy: Bata Shoe Museum‘Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes’ is on at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto until January 6, 2019. For details, visit
Source: Business Standard