the designers

Manolo Blahnik was born on November 27, 1942 in Santa Cruz de La Palma in the Canary Islands to a Czech father and a Spanish mother and raised on a banana plantation.

Blahnik graduated from the University of Geneva with a degree in literature in 1965 and went on to study art in Paris.

He moved to London two years later where he worked briefly as a photographer for the Sunday Times and immediately fell into the fashion set, making friends with Paloma Picasso and photographer Eric Boman.

During a trip to New York in 1971 with his new friends, Blahnik was introduced to Diana Vreeland, then the editor-in-chief of US Vogue, by Picasso. At the time, Blahnik wanted to be a theatre designer but, once he had been persuaded to show her his sketches and after admiring the shoes he had on - a tiny Edwardian pair from Portobello Market - Vreeland insisted that he "should concentrate on the funny little things on the feet". And Blahnik obeyed.

His first collection was designed for Ossie Clark in 1971, but over the years, Blahnik's shoes have graced the catwalks of the world's leading designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, John Galliano and Michael Kors.

He opened his first shop in 1973 by buying out an existing shop called Zapata in Chelsea. This boutique was on Old Church Street in London which soon became regularly frequented by Bianca Jagger, Marie Helvin and Jerry Hall.

Blahnik became a pseudo-uncle to the baby Jade Jagger and would visit Bianca at home frequently. He even changed Jade's nappies.

Now universally known as 'Manolo's', Blahnik's shoes are coveted by a long list of famous clientele from celebrities to royalty. Bianca wore them to make her famous Studio 54 entrance on a white horse in 1977, Diana, Princess of Wales wore them to the Serpentine Gallery in 1994 on the night that Prince Charles admitted his infidelity on television and Kylie Minogue wore them for the cover of her 2001 comeback album. Madonna once described shoes designed by Blahnik as "better than sex" and added that, "what's more, they last longer". Blahnik, known for a wit as sharp as the heels he is famous for making, simply responded: "You have to admire her, she hides her lack of talent so well.

Blahnik's status as a cultural phenomenon was reaffirmed when Marge Simpson wore a pair of his mules during a 1991 episode of The Simpsons. Later, his name became even better known when his designs took 'supporting roles' on the hit television shows Absolutely Fabulous and Sex And The City.

A craftsman with an impeccable eye for detail, Blahnik plays the major part in the creation of his designs, from the initial sketches to creating his own advertising campaigns which always feature his drawings. During his 30-year career, they have become sought after in their own right, raising L10,000 at a charity auction in the United States in 2000. Yet, his business is remarkably small with only one shop in London and a second boutique in New York. Named Accessory Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council in 1990 and 1999, Blahnik also has honorary doctorates from the Royal London College of Art and the Royal Society of Arts of Britain. In 2003, he was honoured with a retrospective exhibition of his drawings, memorabilia and collections at the Design Museum in London.

The Look

Manolo Blahnik began his extraordinary career in the Seventies and continues to be a champion of timeless and beautifully crafted designs. His shoes are synonymous with high glamour and full-throttle sex appeal and have become as famous as the women who wear them.

Who Wears It

Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Sahra Jessicer Parker

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