Manolo Blahnik Collaborates with Young Designers for Spring



Manolo Blahnik for Tribune Standard shoes at Tribune Standard’s spring presentation in Chelsea.  Photo: Claire Stern

Manolo Blahnik, who for years has sold out of his tiny, jewel box boutique on West 54th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, has again teamed up with four emerging designers on a series of shoes for spring 2013.

The 69-year-old Spanish designer, who founded his eponymous high-end shoe label in 1970, collaborated for the third time with labels that launched in the 2000s, including Wes Gordon, Tribune Standard, M.Patmos, and Gregory Parkinson.

In past years, Blahnik has created shoes for veteran designers like Isaac Mizrahi, Oscar de la Renta, and Alaïa, who now have shoe lines of their own. The new quartet—none of whom make shoes—reached out to Blahnik for a partnership.

“Manolo does believe in new designers and having fresh faces in fashion,” said a salesman at the Manolo Blahnik boutique, who preferred not to give his full name.

Manolo Blahnik shoes range in price from $495 to as high as $10,000 for an alligator skin boot, while the collaboration models typically cost between $700 and $800. The new shoe hybrids give the designer’s iconic point-toe, slim-heeled shoes a modern update, featuring textures, colors, and patterns not typically seen in his own line, like sandals made from discarded tilapia skin, raffia, and cork in M.Patmos’ spring 2012 collection. Blahnik designed a series of high-heeled point-toe pumps—reminiscent of his iconic design, but in different shades of metallic and suede—for designer Tawfik Mounayer’s one-year-and-a-half-old label Tribune Standard, which puts a contemporary spin on seventies sportswear. Gordon, 26, collaborated with Blahnik on a collection of high-heeled stilettos with lace-up ankle straps. M.Patmos’ spring 2013 collection included unique leather heels with water snake detail paired with open weave knit sweaters, and a line of color-blocked wedges complemented Parkinson’s floral-printed lace dresses.

For the 37-year-old Mounayer, the chance to work with Blahnik is a dream come true. Mounayer has admired the shoe designer’s craftsmanship for as long as he can remember.

“I just love the refined shape, I love the single sole—you feel a sense of refinement and a sense of ease,” said Mounayer. “I’ve loved Manolo since I could say ‘vogue.’”

An ever-evolving craftsman, Blahnik gets inspired by the collaborations as well.

“He’s the consummate artist,” said footwear expert Meghan Cleary, author of “Shoe Are You?®,” a book about understanding your shoe personality. “And I think as an artist you always want to be evolving and changing and experimenting with new shapes and new styles and materials and ideas.”

By partnering with younger designers, Blahnik makes himself known to a modern clientele that may not recognize his work.

“My older siblings are always familiar with the older establishments, and I always go for what’s new and fresh,” said Cris Smith, the 27-year-old director of development at Sasha Meret Design, an art gallery in Long Island City. “It brings both of us together.”

Blahnik’s luxury shoe empire came to prominence in the early 2000s, thanks in part to being worn by Sarah Jessica Parker’s shoe-obsessed character Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s series “Sex and the City.” Cleary says that collaborating with rising talent is a smart way for Blahnik to build on his “Sex and the City” fan base.

“[The collaborations] allow him entry into a different target audience and a different market that might not be familiar with his work or may think of him as simply Carrie Bradshaw shoes,” she said.

Collaborations require only a minimal investment on Blahnik’s part. According to Cleary, it is common for shoe designers to provide a limited supply of footwear for designer runway shows and presentations, but many of them do not actually go into production for sale in stores. Rather than boost sales, this season’s collaborations give Blahnik the chance to work with up-and-coming talent and expose his brand to a broader consumer base.

Anna Kizner, manager of the shoe department at Bergdorf Goodman, says the retailer plans to carry only one of Manolo Blahnik’s collaborations this spring, a leather ankle boot designed for M.Patmos. Despite all of the designer’s collaborative efforts, sales for his age-old brand remain strong as ever at the Midtown shopping institution.

“He’s one of our top vendors on the floor,” said Kizner.