Manuel "Manolo" Blahnik Rodríguez was born in the Canary Islands in 1942, where he grew up on a Banana plantation. His mother was a big influence on his tastes and they often travelled to Paris and Madrid together to order clothing. She also made her own shoes, learning from a local cobbler.
He studied politics and law in Geneva before switching to literature and architecture. He moved to Paris in 1965 to study art and stage design while working in a vintage clothing shop. In 1969, he moved to London to work as a buyer for a boutique. He also wrote for L’Uomo Vogue. He met Diana Vreeland in New York and presented his portfolio to her. She told him to start making footwear and that’s just what he did. He never studied shoemaking formally but learned the skills by visiting factories.
He designed the famous Ivy shoes for an Ossie Clark runway show in 1971. He also designed shoes for Zhandra Rhodes and Jean Muir in the early 70s.
In 1973, he purchased Zapata shoe company from its owner for 2,000 GBP and opened his own boutique in Chelsea, London.
When he was a boy, he found a trunk filled with shoes by the Russian shoemaker Pierre Yantorny. They were all made from silks, antique lace, brocades and trimmed with delicate buckles. They were light, elegant and feminine. Blahnik brought all of these attributes into his own designs. When mainstream shoe styles were still dominated by clunky platforms in the 1970s, he revived the sleek stiletto heel.
He became the second man ever to feature on the cover of UK Vogue in 1974, in a photo alongside Angelica Huston.
In 1977, he created his first American collection, which was sold at Bloomingdales. Later, in 1979, he opened his first US store.
In 1987, he joined the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.
In the 90s, Manolo became a household name. He embarked on tours across America where many women waited hours just to meet him. He worked with every runway designer in the country including his close friend Isaac Mizrahi who he made his desert boots and pilgrim heels for.
Princess Diana wore a pair of Manolo’s with her ‘revenge dress’ in 1994 when Prince Charles admitted his affair on television.
He worked with John Galliano for many years. Describing their process: “John would say, ‘I’m doing this collection on Russian princesses running through Europe with a few things in their hands. What do you think are the shoes they would wear [if they] stopped in Berlin, stopped [somewhere else] and then arrived in Scotland?”
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.
In 2007, he was appointed a CBE for services to fashion.
Blahnik is the subject of the 2017 documentary film: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards.
His name has appeared countless times in film and television, a testament to his place in the world of high fashion footwear.
Carrie Bradshaw mentions Manolo Blahnik shoes frequently on Sex and the City as they are a particular favourite of hers. In one episode in season 3, she is mugged and the assailant asks for her shoes by the brand name. Bustle proclaimed that Carrie’s shoes were indeed the best part of the show! Sarah Jessica Parker even launched her own line of shoes in 2014 riding on the icon status of Carrie’s shoe collection.
“I adore Ms. Parker,” Blahnik revealed to Vogue back in 2009. “The character she played has had such a role in my career – I cannot help but regard both of them as muses!”
In the third season finale of The Sopranos, Adriana tells new acquaintance Danielle that she "love[s] Blahniks, but they were killing me last night."
All of the shoes in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette were made by Blahnik at the request of the costume designer Milena Cannonero, who won an Academy Award for her work on that film.
Andrea is given a pair of Manolo’s in The Devil Wears Prada.
Bella Swan wore Manolo’s on her wedding day in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1.
Those are to name but a few mentions, however, the list is endless!
Manolo currently resides in bath, England and has boutiques all over the world.