“Joy” is the word shoe designer Manolo Blahnik used to sum up 46 years of his career, displayed and celebrated in Milan through a new exhibition. Running from Jan. 26 to April 9, the “Manolo Blahnik. The Art of Shoes” retrospective showcases 212 shoes — selected among more than 30,000 styles — and 80 sketches in the suggestive, 18th-century location of Palazzo Morando, situated in the city’s tony district near Via Montenapoleone.
“I do all this with immense joy,” Blahnik said about his activity, admitting that money has never been on his mind while sketching a pair of shoes, but everything he has ever worked on has been done “just because I like it.”
Curated by Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz, who worked on the project for the past two years, the exhibition intends to celebrate Blahnik’s work as a form of art, highlighting the designer’s creativity, vision and craftsmanship. Divided in six areas according to Blahnik’s leitmotifs and inspirations, the venue includes the “Gala” section, displaying the most imaginative styles, such as the ones created for Sofia Coppola’s movie “Marie Antoinette.” Dedicated corners focusing on materials, art, architecture and the many geographical influences Blahnik had during his creative process are also part of the exhibit.
According to the designer, inspiration is something he’s never out of, which is also one of the reasons why he will never follow trends either. “I leave to the others to do that, I only do what I like, I’m a little bit selfish,” he said.
The “Nature” area showcases Blahnik’s personal favorite piece of the entire selection. Named “Ivy,” the botanical-inspired green suede sandal was created in 1972 for English fashion designer Ossie Clark. “I don’t know why, but I’ve got a real affection for these shoes,” Blahnik said.
In addition, the style conceived for his dear friend Anna Piaggi is also a standout piece, displayed in the “Core” area among the styles dedicated to important personalities in the designer’s life.
“[Anna Piaggi] has really been the soul of Milan for me,” said Blahnik, defining her as a sister, a “daily work of art” and a major inspiration throughout his life. Blahnik remembered how Piaggi was the one who brought him to the city, to work with local factories. He also stressed how Italians never fully got her. “Everybody believed she was always an eccentric lady…but she was much more,” Blahnik said, mentioning her “absolute intelligence and kindness,” among other qualities. “I still miss her today and I will miss her forever.”
In addition to Piaggi, Blahnik dedicated the exhibition to another of his beloved Italian friends: longtime Vogue Italia’s editor in chief Franca Sozzani, who died on Dec. 22.
“I loved her and it was such news because I knew she was ill but didn’t believe she [would be gone] so soon,” he said, revealing that Sozzani herself asked him to stage the exhibit soon. “She should have been here today….This is her exhibition.”
Thinking forward, the designer mentioned how the namesake business will follow a more digital path, focusing on the online platform under the influence of his niece Kristina. In the meanwhile, he will continue to sketch and work on other collaborations, following the success of the ones launched in 2016 with Rihanna and Demna Gvasalia’s Vetements, whose denim “9 to 5” boots and bright “Fisherman’s Boot” style, respectively, were displayed in the exhibit.
“I’m doing a little collaboration with a young girl, named Grace Wales Bonner,” Blahnik revealed. The 25-year-old, Central Saint Martins’ graduate designer was the winner of the LVMH Young Designer Prize in 2016, selected by a prestigious panel that included Karl Lagerfeld, Nicolas Ghesquière, Phoebe Philo and Marc Jacobs. “She’s very young, delicate and I love her sensibility. She has very clear ideas and I like what she does,” Blahnik said.
Milan is only the first leg of the touring exhibit, which will stop in other relevant locations for the designer. These include the State Museum Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he often looks for inspiration; the Museum Kampa in Prague, Czech Republic, which is the paternal home of his family and the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas in Madrid, to honor the designer’s Spanish roots. As its final stop, the show will be held at the BATA shoe museum in Toronto in 2018.
To celebrate the worldwide launch of the exhibit, Blahnik also collaborated with the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan, located few steps away from Palazzo Morando. The designer defined the hotel a “home-from-home” for over 20 years, staying at the location during his work trips in the city.
Exclusively designed by Blahnik for the hotel, navy slippers in velvet and satin, embellished with gold embroidery will be gifted to select guests until April 9. In addition, guests will also be offered entries to the exhibition and special pedicures and massages at the hotel’s spa.