CEO Kristina Blahnik’s mantra is to smile. “Everything we do at Manolo Blahnik as well as in my personal life is to make people smile. Smiling is contagious and it’s been proven that it not only lifts your mood but also has many other health benefits,” says the mental health advocate.
There’s certainly plenty to smile about. Her uncle, decorated shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, celebrates his 50th anniversary in the fashion business with an all-gold capsule of seven new designs alongside five icons. A gold disc adorns the soles of each shoe, which is presented in limited edition packaging.
Spanning from sensuous fringes to new textured lace, the lavish paean’s standout is the exquisite Bells range. “This is very meaningful to me and my family. My uncle was inspired by a charm bracelet worn by his mother (my grandmother) and the personal connection makes this group so special to me,” shares Kristina. The precious piece of jewellery is reimagined as a delicate bell chain anklet on the Campanilla sandal. She points out that Manolo’s absolute favourite is the Rayuela cut-out flat boot dotted with dainty bells.
Kristina usually goes for classic investment pieces in black, white or red so it’s no wonder her go-to from this capsule is her favourite style, the iconic Maysale mules. Cast in grosgrain and topped with a brilliant crystal buckle, the splendid all-gold look nails holiday dressing.
But this time, she found herself drawn to the new Ignia mule as well. Elevated with feathers highlighted in gold foil, it is an extravagant epitome of the impeccable materials Manolo uses in his offerings.
“I think we are all so grateful that slowly and safely, we are getting back to life as we knew it before. People want to invest in feeling special and the 50th Anniversary Gold Capsule Collection is just that. Consumers are more selective and want shoes they can treasure,” she opines.
Rounding off the golden jubilee commemoration is the launch of a new interactive virtual exhibition christened A New Way of Walking. The name came from renowned British photographer Cecil Beaton who attended fashion designer Ossie Clark’s 1971 Black Magic presentation featuring Manolo’s shoes. It was the first time Manolo designed a collection for a catwalk show. He had forgotten to put the steel support rods inside the thick rubber heels. With the shoes structurally unsound, models walked with an unusual, unbalanced gait. However, press loved it, and Cecil coined it “a new way of walking”.
Unveiling his vast archives and drawings to a global audience for the first time, this monumental project was Kristina’s longtime ambition. Designed under her direction, the experiential presentation taps on her expertise as a chartered architect and took more than 18 months to materialise.
The interactive exhibition is presented as a virtual world spanning five themed spaces, one of which The Palette Room. A whopping 80 of Manolo’s distinctive freehand sketches are arranged in a spectrum that highlights his love and use of colour. Click on a sketch and discover previously untold back stories, such as how German painter Anton Mengs’ 1765 portrait of Queen Maria Luisa de Parma inspired his Nuzianta pump festooned with pom-poms, or how the domes of Russian Orthodox churches provided the design cue for The Onion Shoe.
“This such a momentous milestone and one I’m incredibly proud to be part of,” enthuses Kristina. “It’s a dream come true to open the first doors to our digital archive A New Way of Walking. As the legacy of Manolo Blahnik continues to evolve, the experience will continue to develop to 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 community for years to come.”
If there’s one thing she learnt from Manolo, it’s the limitless power of curiosity. “My uncle is the most curious person I know. He thrives on continuous learning and his inspiration knows no bounds. More recently, I feel I have taught him the confidence to explore new ways of working in a constantly changing era.”
Pandemic-induced lockdowns meant that collections had to be designed and communicated remotely. “It was a huge learning curve for us all, and certainly a challenge as my uncle and I both thrive on working with the artisans in the factory in person, but nothing is impossible.”
Undeterred, the duo landed partnerships on leading global luxury e-commerce platforms Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter in 2020. In June this year, they opened a new New York City flagship boutique by collaborating via Zoom with architect David Thomas, who directed the project from Paris. Thomas was also responsible for Manolo’s standalone boutique at the Palais-Royal in Paris that opened in 2019.
Kristina’s biggest takeaway from the pandemic is to take one day at a time with four core pillars in mind: kindness, honesty, respect and dynamism. “In more challenging times you have to be kinder, more respectful and more dynamic in order to steer the team through it.”
(All images: Manolo Blahnik)
This story is published in the Dec 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.