The amalgamation of glamour, functionality, comfort, and play, Manolo Blahnik is hailed as one of the most prominent shoe designers of all time. Manolo Blahnik’s shoes have been worn both on and off the screen. His designs have been coveted by Jane Birkin, Iman, Kate Middleton, and Michelle Obama. Additionally, they have been seen in Moulin Rouge!, The Devil Wears Prada, Gossip Girl, and Sex and the City. Recently, the luxury accessory brand’s designs have made it onto Margot Robbie as she travelled her way through the Barbie movie press tour.
Upon assuming the role as the chief executive officer of her uncle’s company in 2013, Kristina Blahnik has been a champion for women as well as for increasing diversity in fashion. A former architect, her philosophy for the company has been to allow growth at a natural pace, prioritising the quality of the brand’s shoes over commercial success. Blahnik’s “slow and steady wins the race” approach to brand development has garnered positive outcomes.
Debuted in 2021, The Manolo Blahnik Archives was revealed as a celebration for the brand’s 50th anniversary. An award-winning virtual space, it serves as a space for a global audience to explore the brand’s history, business, and craftsmanship. Launched as a new room within the archives, The Craft explores the art of the luxury accessories house’s women’s and men’s collections. The digital room highlights the processes involved in the creation of Manolo Blahnik shoes, allowing visitors to experience the designing and making of the footwear.
The brainchild of Blahnik, The Craft utilises creative features signature to the brand. The site’s wayfinder imitates the desk of Manolo Blahnik, and its wallpaper is the polka dot motif his Spanish roots inspired. The space allows visitors to dissect the shoes’ structures, browsing an extensive collection of pieces. Manolo Blahnik provides behind-the-scenes content of his creation, opening up the crafting process to many.
The transformed virtual archives highlight eight key areas of the shoemaking operation. Visitors begin the virtual experience being taken through the design process of five shoes representative of the decades of Manolo Blahnik’s career. The construction section breaks down the physical components of Blahnik’s signature styles. With illustrations from major publications and photographers, the designer’s own typologies are showcased. Users are then taken through the techniques used in creating the house’s shoes, and get a closer look at the accessories used in their designs. The sourcing and creating of different materials are depicted, with visitors later being shown the 60 step process of creating each piece. Finally, The Craft comes full circle by displaying the men’s collection, paying homage to how the designer began his career.
Speaking to Vogue Singapore , Kristina Blahnik shares the legacy of her uncle’s brand, her journey through design, and her leadership style.
Hi Kristina, thank you for joining us here today. With the release of your latest fall/winter 2023 collection and the Barbie press tour, what has this past month looked like for you?
The last month has been very exciting for the brand and a huge milestone. We just moved into our new office in Mayfair, London, right next door to Anderson & Sheppard, who was Manolo’s personal tailor for years. Our factories have had a well-deserved break in August so a lot of work has gone into planning the launch of The Craft Room in The Manolo Blahnik archives. It celebrates the incredible designs Manolo has created for over 50 years as well as the artisans who help to make it all happen.
Tell us about how you first ventured into the world of design.
Fashion was completely ingrained in my life at a young age without me knowing. I used to play games around the store while my mother and uncle unpacked shoes. I never contemplated going into the family business. In fact, my parents and even Manolo himself always told me to do my own thing. As a result, I studied architecture, and worked in that industry for about 17 years.
“As I used to be an architect, I believe the more energy you put into something, it’s more likely to be standing in a thousand years than something that took a week to build.”
What are some of your earliest recollections of the Manolo Blahnik brand?
One of my earliest memories is from when I was about eight years old, sitting on my uncle’s lap and watching him design shoes. I was really bored and kept pestering him to play with me. He said he would but first wanted me to draw some shoes with him, so I did. I also vividly remember being dressed in my grey tweed pinafore school uniform and dancing around to Michael Jackson in a pair of amazing red patent heels. They were 11.5cm high, and obviously too big for me, but it didn’t matter.
The Manolo Blahnik Archive is a pivotal part of your body of work. How did you meld the brand’s creative vision with your own architectural direction?
As I used to be an architect, I believe the more energy you put into something, it’s more likely to be standing in a thousand years than something that took a week to build. I would say with The Craft Room, we took time and careful consideration on what content will be featured and how. The development of this digital space has been a passion of mine for years and I am incredibly proud of the work we have done.
The collective goal of The Manolo Blahnik Archives was for it to “be a space where others can learn and feel inspired to create.’’ Why do you think the virtual atelier was the best approach to breathe this vision to life?
At Manolo Blahnik we are all about making people smile and bringing this energy into the world. We’re a family that makes beautiful creations in the hopes of making people smile. I, among many others, have a huge amount of respect for my uncle. We wanted to honour the incredible brand he has built and celebrate our heritage with the launch of The Manolo Blahnik Archives in 2021. It was a dream I had to protect the legacy of the brand which was to open up an archive that I photographed 22 years ago as well as with the work of our incredible archive team who have helped to digitise Manolo’s work. I always find it sad when you see archives that are hidden away from the world in vaults. Now with The Craft room, we get to celebrate so many more aspects of his work and I am particularly excited for people to experience it and hopefully feel inspired to create and innovate.
What can we expect from the virtual atelier now?
Craftsmanship is at the heart of everything we do and with The Craft room I wanted to celebrate the artisans behind the making of each shoe. Manolo Blahnik is a family business with a family mindset. Behind each shoe are the personal relationships we have with our artisans that span decades and generations. They are the real magicians. You can have an amazing drawing but it is the artisans that make the shoe come to life. I am so thrilled that we have been able to bring their work and their skill to life in The Craft room and educate people along the way.
Since your contributions as chief executive officer in 2013, the company has seen growth under your tutelage. What do you attribute this to?
I want to see it grow in a safe way, a slow way, and a way that doesn’t in any shape or form compromise the core value of creativity, craftsmanship, and timelessness. The commercial success should be a by-product of getting everything else right. It’s not about numerical growth, it’s about qualitative growth.
“The beautiful thing about Manolo Blahnik shoes is that when you own them, when you’ve invested in them, you breathe another whole life story into them.”
For its build and longevity, Manolo Blahnik has reaffirmed its designs as an investment. What are some investments you’ve made in your own wardrobe?
If I don’t want to overthink my outfit, I’ll put on a dress—you can conquer the world in a good dress. My wardrobe is about longevity, quality, and timelessness. My style has a classic look; I don’t tend to follow the fashion trend path. You’ll see me in red, black, or white 80 percent of the time—that’s a pretty predominant portion of my wardrobe. I’ll add in splashes of colour.
If you were to curate your own personal archive from your time with the brand, what would that look like?
I would like to take a screenshot of watching Manolo in the factories and display that in an archive. I could stand there for days looking at his every move, watching his passion come to life, his relationships with the artisans, his skillful eye cutting the patterns on the lasts . He literally tells the story of the shoe and breathes life into it. The beautiful thing about Manolo Blahnik shoes is that when you own them, when you’ve invested in them, you breathe another whole life story into them.
Moving forward, what direction do you hope to take Manolo Blahnik in?
The second generation’s job is to protect the legacy and evolve it into the next stage of its iteration. That’s the most important thing for me. I want Manolo Blahnik to last beyond our lifetimes.
To continue building the foundations to protect the Manolo Blahnik brand and to give back. Especially now focusing on wellbeing and mental health as well as telling rich stories of our heritage.
The Craft room launched on 3 October 2023.