LONDON — Talk about escapism.
The team at Manolo Blahnik has subverted the idea of an archive, turning the sketches, designs, history and legacy of the designer into an immersive and interactive virtual experience that marks the brand’s 50th anniversary year.
The Manolo Blahnik Archives: “New Way of Walking” is part museum, part VIP gallery tour, part pop culture lecture that brings the designer’s work, inspirations and memories to life in a 3D experience that stretches across five separate “rooms.”
With a click, visitors can head into the Gold Room, with its glittering, opulent designs; or the Palette, which showcases 80 of Blahnik’s creations, accompanied by detailed captions and colorful quotes. They can also step back into the ’70s, when Blahnik began his career.
In that section, there are film clips, newspaper cuttings, unseen portraits, personal photographs — and some unforgettable memories.
Indeed, Blahnik recalls a major wardrobe malfunction when he created the shoes for Ossie Clark’s Black Magic runway show in 1971. He made them with thick rubber heels — and no steel support rods inside. As the temperature got hotter, the heels softened, and the models wobbled their way down the catwalk.
“It could’ve been the end of my career!” Blahnik is quoted as saying. “Those poor girls couldn’t walk properly, but people loved it. Sir Cecil Beaton said to me, ‘Is this a new way of walking?'”
The site itself is as bold, colorful and animated a a Disney production, and the content is top-notch.
Judith Clark, a curator who specializes in fashion exhibitions, worked closely with Kristina Blahnik, the company’s chief executive officer, the designer, and the in-house archive team, on the project, and takes visitors through a guided tour of all the footwear, and the memories.
Rōnin, a digital design studio based in Amsterdam created the experiential site.
Blahnik said he wanted the archive to be a space “where others can learn and feel inspired to create. It’s very important to me personally that even those who can’t buy my shoes are able to feel a connection to Manolo Blahnik and who we are.
“It has been such a joy to relive some of the magnificent moments in my career and uncover things I have not thought about — or seen — for years! Also, to celebrate the team behind Manolo Blahnik is very special to me, none of this would be possible without them.”
On Wednesday night, Kristina Blahnik hosted a small dinner at Wiltons, Manolo’s favorite London restaurant, on Jermyn Street in St. James’s, to mark the archive’s launch. She said it had been a long-held dream of hers to gather the rich experience, history and designs of her uncle in one place.
“It is a dream come true to open the first doors to our archive. As the legacy of Manolo Blahnik continues to evolve, the experience will continue to develop and tell its story. This is only the beginning of a very exciting journey and one we hope will be explored and enjoyed by our loyal followers for years to come,” she said.
Clark, a guest at the dinner where “Manolo’s favorite bread and butter pudding” was served for dessert, said that every part of the project was thrilling, even writing the captions for the various exhibits. That’s usually the least glamorous part of a curator’s job, she said.
“I remember moments of being let into their version of what fashion could be, populated with a kaleidoscope of references. It was the version I hoped it could be. This project has given me an opportunity to translate some of his references into small texts that run alongside his extraordinary sketches. It is such a privilege to have been asked to perform this particular role,” Clark said.