Manolo Blahnik. The Art of Shoes - State Hermitage Museum Official Hotel in St Petersburg
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Manolo Blahnik. The Art of Shoes

A shoe possesses a kind of strange humanity. Shoes and boots always appear in pairs, like twins or lovers. Who was the first shoe designer is unknown. But there is a legend that the ruler of Mount Olympus himself, Zeus, was the one who created the golden sandals with wings for Hermes. From April 29 until July 23 the Hermitage shows 214 pairs of shoes from the archives of Manolo Blahnik — the shoe designer, second only to Zeus, judging by the level of talent and fame.

Shoes for Diaghilev and Nijinsky

The section Materials. Gala. will show shoes from expensive materials, whether it is silk, velvet or leather of exotic reptiles, decorated with precious stones and metals, lace, and sewing. Here we can remember the designer’s childhood that took place in paradise — on the Canary Islands. Thanks to the influence of his beautiful mother he soon became interested in fashion. Little Manolo adorned espadrilles with shells, coins and pieces of glass, turning rough rope shoes worn by the locals into the magic shoes of Cinderella. He even made shoes for his favorite dog and adored monkey. The dog, by the way, was named Diaghilev and monkey — Nijinsky, because the child was fascinated by the Russian Seasons of Sergei Diaghilev and the ballet.

“Take the wallet, rings, just do not touch the shoes of Manolo!”

In the same section exquisite rococo shoes made by designer for Sofia Coppola’s movie Marie Antoinette are displayed. Manolo Blahnik fell in love with moving pictures once and for all after Gone With the Wind and Luchino Visconti’s masterpiece Senso. He watched movies at every opportunity, avidly, five films a day. He dreamed of becoming an artist in the movies, but it did not happen. However, the film world is not alien to him. The series Sex and the City brought him worldwide fame. The main character of the film — a New York journalist Carrie Bradshaw is a distinct type of a “fashion victim”, and her passion for expensive Manolo Blahnik’s creations is like a drug addiction. The value of his shoes is evident in the scene where Carrie got mugged (New York is not very safe in the evening), and together with a purse the mugger took her pearl shoes by Manolo Blahnik. The designer, who needs no advertising, found the way to express his gratitude to the creators of the show and personally to Sarah Jessica Parker by creating a shoe model called SJP. In the section Heart you can see the shoes inspired by the people who are dear to him  — actresses Brigitte Bardot, Sarah Jessica Parker, fashion journalist Anna Piaggi, an esthete, a photographer and costume designer Cecil Beaton, and even Alexander the Great. Of course, not all of them he knew personally. There are people whom he knew only from books and films, whose creativity he admired.

The Formative Years

Speaking of his formative years, it’s impossible not to mention Paloma Picasso — the daughter of the great Pablo. Paloma introduced him to many people who meant something in the fashion and art of the world capitals. Including the legendary editor of American magazine Vogue Diana Vreeland, who, after seeing the sketches of Manolo, advised him to design shoes. His meeting with an incredibly talented British designer from the Swinging London, Ozzie Clark, led to an important order for Manolo Blahnik — to make shoes for the spring-summer collection of 1972. Triumph almost turned into failure: the artist had an inexhaustible imagination and sense of style, but was weak on the technical side. After all, one needs mathematical precision, as in architecture. In his shoes fashion models hobbled down the runway with obvious difficulty. However, his talent was noticed, and the fashion magazines mentioned his name. Critics agreed that even if Blahnik shoes can`t be worn, they should be admired.

I Am Not Chasing After Fashion

The section Geographical Influence shows shoes, created by the designer after his travels. The section Architecture and Art is a declaration of love to the artists like Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Another one called Nature is to plants and animals. In particular, Manolo Blahnik admired the perfect beauty of the horses and the representatives of the cat family with their grace. You shouldn’t be surprised that the world-class museum shows shoes. Fashion entered the museum with its light, graceful gait during the 1980s. It all started with Yves Saint Laurent followed by exhibitions of many other famous designers. These exhibitions put on display not only clothes but also accessories, including hats by Philip Treacy, and shoes by Manolo Blahnik. The Hermitage has joined the global trend in recent years, and now they are working on the founding of the Museum of Costume and Fashion. Salvador Dali, when asked what everyday thing he could worship as a relic, replied without hesitation: “Shoes!” One of the most famous shoe designer Christian Louboutin, which has become incredibly famous in Russia after the song by Sergei Shnurov In Loubotins, once said, that the shoes are timeless erotic symbols. Manolo Blahnik has always distanced himself from volatile fashion, opting for art, which, as you know, is eternal. Shoes by Manolo Blahnik are undoubtedly a work of art. They may well be put on a shelf, as a precious statuette, just to be admired. “I’m not chasing after fashion, — he says. — My models exist beyond fashion, beyond fashion context. Of course, they look fashionable on the people who buy and wear them, but I have never done anything in order to be “trendy”. My trick is to create a timeless object”.

Zinaida Arsenieva