Sunday, 22 July 2018

Review: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards

Manolo Blahnik is a man all women love for his gorgeous shoes
On the flight to Singapore, our in-flight entertainment on Cathay Pacific wasn't working and so it wasn't until more than half way through the flight that it was re-booted and we could finally watch something.

With only an hour and a half to go, I picked a quick documentary to watch -- one on the maestro of shoes, Manolo Blahnik.

The man is 75 years old now and still going strong. He was born in the Canary Islands in Spain to an Austrian-Hungarian father and Spanish mother who were well-to-do. His mother instilled a sense of style in the young boy, and he became very creative, ditching his parents' plans for him to become a diplomat and instead going to Paris and London.

During his childhood he did make shoes for lizards
His childhood memories of his home was wandering the gardens and used foil that wrapped chocolate bars and made them into shoes for lizards. Hence the title of the documentary.

Blahnik learned shoe making from his mother, who made her own shoes, and she learned through a cobbler in the Canary Islands. In the end Blahnik didn't have formal training in making shoes, but he is very involved in the entire process from beginning to end.

He also draws every shoe that he produces, and uses watercolours to paint them. He has a wonderful imagination, inspired by all kinds of things from flowers -- wisteria are his favourite -- to the sea, to colours. 

In 1970 he had an opportunity to meet Diana Vreeland, the arbiter of taste who was then the editor-in-chief of US Vogue. He was so nervous meeting her that he could barely say anything. After she looked at his drawings she declared: "Young man, make things, make accessories, make shoes."

She suggested he focus on shoes and he followed her advice.

He got his big break in 1972 to create shoes for a runway show. However, when he made the heels with rubber soles, he forgot to put steel in them to support the heel; it was really painful for the models to walk in them, that they seemed to create a new way of walking the runway. Luckily for Blahnik, the mistake turned into a blessing.

He starts off by sketching each shoe, painting by hand
Success swept up with him in the 1980s and of course the 1990s with Sex in the City -- he was overwhelmed that women were willing to drop US$500 for a pair thanks to a fictional character who was obsessed with his heels. 

And of course the film has numerous testimonials from US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour to singer Rihanna and models Karlie Kloss and Naomi Campbell fawning over Blahnik's shoes. 

But what would have been more interesting would be to follow him from sketch to shoe, as he personally oversees every part of the shoe production. It is only towards the end of the film that the camera follows Blahnik in Italy when he visits a shoe factory. 

He puts on a white coat -- complete with a handkerchief in the pocket -- and he gets to work fashioning the heel out of wood. He is the one literally carving it and smoothing it out with the machine while a craftsman looks on. From there we watch how the shoe is fashioned, the satin sewn on, jewels set, or lace laid on top. 

His designs, colours and decorations are elegant and stylish
There is also a question about his personal life -- to which no friends can answer, and he himself would rather be busy creating more shoes. Trying to pry into someone's personal life is redundant here -- we just want to know more about how he translates ideas onto shoes.

Nevertheless it was interesting to hear about his early days, hanging out with model Bianca Jagger and actor Rupert Everett, how he was a model at one point, and how he let Wintour's toddler son create a mess in his shoe shop.

He also pays tribute to three muses -- Anna Piaggi, the eccentric editor of Vogue Italy, Isabella Blow, fashion muse, and model Tina Chow. All three women have died in the last few years, Blahnik must be missing them terribly.

In any event he continues to work, traveling to his different homes and taking in as much of nature as he can. He seems to work solitary, but is very social when he needs to be. His impeccable taste in clothes makes him practically the only man who can pull off a lilac suit.

He says he is very lucky to be able to find something he loves to do and is enjoying every moment. We're glad he is too.

Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards (2017)
Directed by Michael Roberts
79 minutes

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