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  • Writer's pictureSophie Stekel

Making Shoes into Art: A Review of the Manolo Blahnik Exhibit

We all know THE Manolo Blahnik shoe: the lustrous blue satin pump with an embellished buckle made of Swarovski crystals gently resting atop the pointed toe. The Spanish shoe designer has become a household name for luxury shoes with the Hangisi pump becoming synonymous with Carrie Bradshaw and coveted by Sex and the City fans around the world. For most people, the $1,000 stilettos are completely out of reach like that jar of peanut butter on the top shelf of my cupboard. But now, the public has the opportunity to get up close and personal with the designer shoes at Manolo’s The Art of Shoes, an exhibit currently on display at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum.

I excitedly attended the exhibit a few weeks ago, for I have always adored Manolo. So much so, that I have dreamt of myself wearing the Hangisi pumps as my “something blue” on my wedding day.

So I entered the room on the third floor of the museum bright eyed and ready for some sparkle.

Blahnik called the exhibit a “temple of beauty” bedecked with beads, feathers, lace and even semiprecious stones using materials like silk, satin and taffeta. The exhibit included nearly 200 pairs of shoes from his first ever collection in 1972 until today.

Looking at the 80 sketches that line the wall as soon as you walk into the room, it is clear that Manolo has a warped view of the woman’s foot. It is not physically possible for the cuneiform bone to bend in such a way. Manolo’s shoes are obviously not meant to be walked in: they are meant to be viewed as works of art.

The sketches were missing dates so it was hard for me to place which collection and which decade they were from. There was a leopard print shoe on stilts adjacent to a demure pair of leather Mary Janes, indicating a blended mix of wild and feminine. The supporting placards highlight the inspiration behind each show, citing Pablo Picasso and Yves St. Laurent as influences for some of his pieces.

A cushioned bench was strategically place near the door underneath Manolo’s signature on the wall. I’m sure they did this with the intention of creating a photo op for social media. Instead, it served as a resting place for uninterested boyfriends/husbands who sat watching the game on their phones. I was able to sneak in a shot but the lighting was so bad, I did not bother posting it.

The next thing I saw were the "9 to 5” belted denim thigh-high boots. I recognized them right away as they were famously designed and worn by Rhianna, who then gifted them to Jlo who then wore them in her “Ain’t Your Mama” music video. Upon further research, I found out that they are worth $4,350. Looking at it closely through a case of glass, I could understand why.

One part of the exhibit that stood out to me was the array of shoes that Manolo designed for Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antionette. I had no idea that Manolo did the shoes for one of my all time favourite movies. In fact, when the costume designer Milena Canonero approached him with the opportunity, he dropped what he was doing to take the job. After all, he did once say that he “belongs in the 18th century.”

Leaving the museum, I am still confused about how each section was divided up. It was not by collection and it was not by colour, and simply did not flow. The experience was practically like walking through a department store where nothing is for sale. The shoes were just meant to be admired and gawked at, and I was okay with that.

The Bata Shoe Museum is final and only North American venue to showcase Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes. On at the Bata Shoe Museum until January 6.

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