The Wallace Collection, one of the hidden gems of London, is tucked away in the depths of Baker Street like a lusciously perfect shoe under a gorgeous evening gown. In this gallery hangs Fragonard’s The Swing, a masterpiece of 18th century French painting. From under her frothing pink skirts, the girl on the swing kicks off her rosy silk pump for the admiration of a concealed lover gazing up from the undergrowth.
The shoe in The Swing, suspended in mid-air for over two centuries, remains beautiful and seductive enough to be worn today. It might well be a design by the modern-day master of decadently delightful footwear, Manolo Blahnik. And indeed, through the special exhibit An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection, we see Blahnik’s pumps and slippers and heels and boots, traipsing amongst the gilded furnishings, gleaming porcelain, glowing enamels and glittering privilege of a period in French history over which so many ultimately lost their heads. Some might say, seeing all the luxury, perhaps it was worth it.
Go-to of the glitterati
The Blahnik retrospective brings together 160 shoes created over the course of the designer’s 50-year career, which established him as one of London’s most internationally successful footwear designers. Manolo Blahnik shoes were worn and loved by the late Princess Diana; they continue to dress the feet of Diana’s daughters-in-law, Kate and Meghan. The fashionista cult series Sex and the City was defined as much by Carrie Bradshaw’s passion for Manolos as it was by her colorful love life. Gossip Girl brought Manolo lovers to the next generation of television viewers. Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, blurring the boundaries between the doomed 18th century queen and her modern day parallels, could hardly have had anyone else create the footwear for the film. Indeed, some of those exact shoes are displayed at the Wallace Collection. The intimidating Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, once said she couldn’t remember the last time she wore any other designer’s shoes.
Good enough to eat
Walking around the exhibition, I tried to photograph details as I went. My camera repeatedly defaulted to the “Food” setting when I aimed it at a frothing silk mule or cobwebby gladiator sandals composed of pink rosebuds. It goes to show how delicious Blahnik shoes are, confirmed by modern technology that thinks they are good enough to eat.
Each shoe sits upon its own custom mount, protected by artisan hand-blown glass domes. They glow in the galleries like vibrant butterflies or stuffed birds-of-paradise in a Victorian parlor. The handmade glass undulates subtly as you look through it, making it seem as if toes are wiggling with pleasure within the empty slippers, or a heel is flexing with pleasurable anticipation of dancing the night away.
Shoes have a very erotic, sensual history, and by the time I had gazed at the last exhibit—a sleek black suede stiletto boot with a subtle garnish of waved black fur—I felt almost like the voyeur who lay in the flowerbeds of The Swing to spy upon his fully aware and encouraging lover. Perhaps if her shoe had been a Blahnik, the lovely swinger might not have kicked it off so readily, not even for the perfect beau.
Just for you: Manolo Blahnik Hangisi, Castañer, and more
Some people wear shoes, some wear works of art. Take a stroll through Italist’s collection of Manolo Blahniks to find the perfect masterpieces for your feet.
Carrie Bradshaw’s favorite was the Manolo Blahnik Hangisi, a classic pump with a jewelled buckle on the toe. Hangisi continues to be a modern and wearable style icon that is available in various heel heights, materials, and colors. Hangisi, or its sister shoe, Lanza, are versatile must-haves for any Manolo-loving foot.
Since the 1920s, the Castañer espadrille has been a must-wear for fashionable holidaymakers. Manolo’s witty collaboration with Castañer makes an informal shoe into extra-sexy cruise wear, marrying the classic rope with heels and peppy colors.
Shop italist.com for up to 30% off on over 150,000 up-to-the-minute luxury fashions for women, men, and kids from leading brands like Golden Goose, Fendi, Gucci, Miu Miu, and many more—direct from Italy’s finest boutiques to your door.
By: Daniel Milford-Cottam
With a personal collection of over 2000 pieces of designer couture, Daniel has studied the history of fashion from a young age. While Assistant Curator in the Furniture, Textiles, and Fashion department at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, he worked on the Wedding Dress exhibition and the accompanying publication. Daniel is the author of Fashion in the 1950s and Fashion in the 1970s (Bloomsbury Shire), and is currently penning the next book in the series, Fashion in the 1960s.