Footwear as art
The State Hermitage Museum shows retrospective of contemporary fashion designer Manolo Blahnik
13 May, 2017
Over the past few years, the State Hermitage Museum has hosted several exhibitions dedicated to fashion history, which focused on Venice designer Mariano Fortuny, fashion illustrator and creator of visual spectacle Romain de Tirtoff (Erte) and fashion designer Vyacheslav Zaitsev. Continuing the trend, visitors of the museum will have the chance to see a retrospective of contemporary fashion designer Manolo Blahnik at the museum from 11 May until 23 July.
Altogether the display in St. Petersburg presents 30 original designs and 214 shoes from Manolo Blahnik’s archive of the past 45 years. Organised in association with Manolo Blahnik’s Studio (UK), the exhibition has already been shown in Milan and after St. Petersburg will travel to Prague, Madrid and Toronto.
Today, the name Manolo Blahnik is synonymous with haute couture but back in 1960 he was nothing more than an unknown immigrant from the Canary Islands and a student at the University of Geneva, where he read law and literature. In 1965 he moved to Paris and then to London, where he worked as a consultant in fashion boutiques, wrote for Vogue Italia and dreamt of becoming a theatre set designer. The turning point of his life is a 1971 trip to New York, where he met the legendary Diana Vreeland, then editor-in-chief of American Vogue. Admiring some of his sketches, she told Blahnik that he should do shoes. Just two years later he started his own business in the UK and in 1978 the Manolo Blahnik boutique was opened on the prestigious Madison Avenue in New York.
The State Hermitage Museum exhibition is divided into six thematic sections. The Gala section contains shoes made from the most expensive materials and footwear that Blahnik created for Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette, which contributed to the picture winning an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The models in the Heart (Core) section are devoted to celebrities and historical figures important to the designer. The Materials section tells about the designer’s atelier and his love of various fabrics (satin, tafetta, velveteen, tweed, cashmere, wool, linen, cotton, silk brocade and Ottoman silks). The Geographical Influences section features footwear inspired by Blahnik’s travels around the world and his particular affection for the personality of Catherine the Great. The Nature section presents a collection of shoes the inspiration for which Blahnik found in the world of flora: he included flowers, palm-leaves and cacti in the patterns. The Architecture and Art section contains shoes the inspiration for which came from architectural monuments, literature, the cinema or paintings by Francisco de Zurbaran and Francisco de Goya, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian, as well as sculptures by Alexander Calder.