Manolo Blahnik in pop culture
To celebrate our screening of Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards, writer Ella Donald looks at the impact of film and TV on Manolo Blahniks.
As everyone from Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) to RuPaul would have it, nothing comes between a girl and her Manolo Blahniks. "Please, sir, they're my favorite pair!" Carrie cries at a robber in the Sex and the City episode ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’ (3x17, 2000) when he demands her strappy sandal Blahniks, discovered for half price at a sample sale. Take her baguette, her ring, her watch, they’re all handed over gladly. The Blahniks, however, are crossing a line.
That an unnamed robber knew the look of a designer shoe is testament to how pop culture, particularly Sex and the City, impacted the mainstream popularity of Blahnik.
Since being invited by designer Ossie Clark to create shoes for a runway show in the 70s, opening his own boutique and winning numerous awards, Blahnik has been beloved by couture devotees his entire career, but it was Sex and the City that made his designs recognisable and coveted by viewers the world over.
Carrie Bradshaw’s obsession with the brand was one of the most memorable aspects of the show. In season three, she declares she has had “a religious experience at Manolo Blahnik” while preparing to impress Mr Big’s new girlfriend with a stunning pair of electric tartan mules.
In season four, she deals with being single on her 35th birthday by spending it with her one true shoe soulmate. After a break-up where she must buy her apartment from her ex, she realises that she has spent over $40 000 on her beloved Blahniks, saying “I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes”. After all, it’s “a woman’s right to shoes” if she doesn’t settle down with a man, and instead finds true love with her collection. Friends and lovers will always come and go, but there will always be Manolos.
It’s the type of pop culture recognition that cements an icon. Post-Sex and the City, Manolo Blahnik’s designs became synonymous with eye-catching elegance and power, unique but still classic, an instant symbol of status and character. Gossip Girl was Sex and the City for the next generation in many respects – a boundary-pushing show on cable TV about the lives of Manhattan’s most glamorous – including the Manolo obsession, with countless designs spotted over the show’s six seasons. At the beginning of season three, Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenberg) generously lets Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) borrow a pair of hers.
When there’s a footwear malfunction in Loony Tunes’ Duck Dodgers, Daffy Duck’s outer space alter ego frequently mutters "Cheap counterfeit Manolo Blahniks” - had they been real, of course, his sandals wouldn’t have broken when he was about to be caught by his opponent Ah-Choo. They have been everywhere from cult hit TV show Angel to Weird Al Yankovic and Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s '03 Bonnie & Clyde'. Blahnik even designed the shoes for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Bella Swan wore the iconic embellished satin ‘Swan’ pump for her wedding in the fourth Twilight movie. It seems like every medium listens when RuPaul sings "My Manolo Blahniks gonna party tonight" in ‘Click Clack (Make Dat Money)’.
Manolo Blahnik isn’t the only brand to have experienced pop culture stardom – Nike and Adidas were hallmarks of the laid-back fashions of the 1980s before recently reappearing – but it is one of the most enduring. Blahnik, of course, started designing in the 1970s, and Sex and the City didn’t come out until the late 1990s, withstanding the test of time and trends that countless other designers fade with. It’s a testament to the timelessness of Manolo Blahnik’s styles that the impact continues to be felt long after Carrie Bradshaw first professed her love for the brand, and even longer since Blahnik’s designs first graced the runway.
The fashion forward nature of his shoes, praised everywhere from the Swinging London of the 1960s to fictional Manhattan teenagers in the mid-2000s, reveal why they have gone on to leave such an indelible mark on both couture fans but also the everyday person. They are the shoes to dream of and aspire to, both then and now. Last year, the classic heel SATC made famous - a satin court or mule shoe, embellished a crystal buckle - has made a comeback, sported by bloggers and fashion influencers all over the world, including Pernille Teisbaek, Peony Lim, and Irina Lakicevic. In documentary Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, Vogue editor Anna Wintour says that she can’t “remember the last time I wore anyone else’s shoes”. She will never need to.