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Manolo Blahnik celebrates 50th anniversary with a virtual archive exhibition

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

Nov 18, 2021

Culture

Image: courtesy of Manolo Blahnik

Family-run luxury footwear and accessories house Manolo Blahnik is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an interactive virtual exhibition showcasing its extensive archives.

The ‘Manolo Blahnik Archives: A New Way of Walking’ is a virtual world themed across five rooms that celebrate “past and present pivotal moments” to reveal for the first time the breadth of the luxury footwear label’s archives.

The interactive exhibition at TheArchives.ManoloBlahnik.com concentrates on Blahnik’s drawings ‘A New Way of Walking’ which showcase the shoemaker’s artistic flair, humour and the unique intricacy invested in each design.

The virtual archives have been a long-term ambition of the company’s chief executive Kristina Blahnik and have been designed under her direction. The archival content and touchpoints throughout have been compiled by renowned industry expert, Judith Clark in conjunction with Manolo Blahnik himself and the brand’s in-house archive team. While the contraction of the virtual world has been in the making for 18-months by Amsterdam-based digital design studio Rōnin.

Commenting on the exhibition, Manolo Blahnik, said in a statement: “I want this 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, ‘A New Way of Walking’ offers that.

“This experience would not have been possible without Judith Clark who has expertly curated the content and my niece Kristina who had the vision bring this project to life so wonderfully. 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.”

Manolo Blahnik unveils interactive virtual exhibition to celebrate 50 years in fashion

Image: courtesy of Manolo Blahnik

There are five rooms to explore and the experience starts the same way Blahnik’s designs do, with a sketch, and the ‘The Palette Room’ celebrates the footwear designer’s love and use of colour with 80 sketches arranged in a spectrum of colour. Fans can click on the shoes to see the drawings up close as well as learn about the story and inspirations behind each design and see the final shoe in a full 360 view.

While ‘The ‘70s Room’ offers a look through film clips, newspaper cuttings, unseen portraits and personal photographs, telling the story of the many ‘firsts’ in the early days of the company. Here fans can see archival sketches showcasing Blahnik’s design journey and illustrating how his designs have developed over the past 50 years. Highlights from this room include the Orientallia Babouche from 1978 showcasing the early influence of Morocco, the Marlene pump from 1979 featuring a primary example of the buckle for which the house has become renowned, and the storied Warsuma shoe created for Ossie Clark.

This archive room also houses a dress from the same Ossie Clark, 1971 ‘Black Magic’ catwalk show, for which Blahnik designed his first collection. Blahnik created thick rubber heels and forgot to put steel support rods inside, leaving the shoes structurally unsound and models with an unusual, unbalanced walk. However, the press loved them and the British photographer Cecil Beaton coined it “A new way of walking”. Now, 50 years later, this bittersweet accident is the title of a new Manolo Blahnik world.

The third room is entitled ‘Friendships’ dedicated to “deep connections and lifelong relationships. Featured friends include Diana Vreeland, the former editor-in-chief of American Vogue who was a mentor to Blahnik in the early days and encouraged his foray into footwear and Anna Piaggi, the Italian writer and fashion icon for whom Blahnik designed and dedicated styles including Menchi and Piaggi.

Image: courtesy of Manolo Blahnik

While ‘The Gold Room’ celebrates opulence and excess, highlighting some of the most fantastical and exuberant designs, exceptional materials, and extraordinary craftsmanship from the past five decades and Blahnik’s ongoing influence of gold. Alongside sketches and materials is the new 50th-anniversary collection, a capsule of gold styles that are lavish, baroque and quintessentially ‘Manolo’, which are also available to shop within the experience.

The final room is “Our Family’ created to capture a snapshot of the entire house in its 50th year and to highlight the individuals who have worked alongside Manolo and the Blahnik family to build the brand. This includes portraits of each team member, accompanied by personal quotes and values compiled to form a portrait of Blahnik, originally shot by celebrated British photographer, Misan Harriman.

Image: courtesy of Manolo Blahnik

Kristina Blahnik, chief executive at Manolo Blahnik, added: “It’s 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.”

Manolo Blahnik opened its first boutique on Old Church Street, London in 1971, and over the past five decades, it has grown to 21 standalone stores, including two recent openings in New York, a pop up in East Hampton and a flagship boutique in Manhattan on Madison Avenue. The luxury footwear label is also distributed in 303 doors globally with points of sale in 31 countries encompassing Europe, North America, Asia and Australia, and operates its own global e-commerce platform. It also acquired its atelier and production facility, located in Vigevano, Pavia, Italy in 2019.