Manolo Blahnik. As a straight middle-aged white dude with limited knowledge of the fashion industry, I know this name for one reason: my wife watched Sex and the City in the early-2000’s. In one iconic scene, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) begs a would-be mugger not to take her “Manolo’s” as the criminal steals her purse and leaves her bare-footed in the street. The scene establishes several things. One: Manolo Blahnik shoes are expensive enough that they’re worth stealing. Two: even muggers in New York City knew who Manolo Blahnik was in the late 1990’s. Three: women might be willing to fight muggers to keep a pair of his shoes.
How did a kid growing up in Santa Cruz on the Canary Islands build a fashion empire and become a household name to women across the globe? Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, a new documentary from director Michael Roberts, examines Blahnik’s career and his cultural impact that has been felt from the 1970’s to today. His fellow fashion icons who are interviewed in the film refer to him as “the poet of couture” and “the emperor of shoes”.
As a boy, he spent all of his spare money on American fashion magazines. Later, he became the first man to ever appear on the cover of British Vogue. He rose to prominence in Paris and London because the fashion industry in Europe was more focused on originality while America was more focused on commercial appeal.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, Blahnik began designing shoes for celebrities, and his star rose to new heights when Lady Diana began wearing his designs to public appearances. One store begat another store, and before long, he was acquiring factories in Europe to manufacture his shoes. (To this day, he hand crafts the sample of each design that is then used in the manufacturing process.) All the major designers began using his shoes in their collections and runway shows. Even Hollywood came calling when Blahnik designed 23 pairs of shoes for Sofia Copola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette.
Rags to riches success stories always make for interesting documentaries. Blahnik’s childhood definitely didn’t qualify as “rags”, but his rise from an upper middle class European home to fashion icon status still fits that mold. The film’s sole deficiency is it focuses almost exclusively on Blahnik’s career and achievements, leaving Blahnik the artist and the man largely ignored.
The final twenty minutes of the film takes a cursory glimpse at his sexuality and lifelong bachelorhood. I would’ve liked to see more about what drives him as a creative talent. He states near the end of the film that he sees himself more as a cobbler than an artist. Even as a fashion novice, I know that Blahnik was simply being humble.
Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is currently playing in theaters including the Regal Tara 4 in Atlanta.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.