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Blahnik, Manolo

Manolo Blahnik was born on November 28th, 1942 in Santa Cruz de la Palma in the Canary Islands, to a Czech father and Spanish mother. He and sister Evangelina grew up on the family's banana plantation, and were home educated. Besides their grandfather's house, there were no nearby neighbors. The family frequently traveled to Madrid and Paris, where his mother bought clothes from her favorite designers. Young Manolo enjoyed looking at the designs in the fashion magazines his mother subscribed to, and he received an early education in the art of shoemaking by watching his mother make her own footwear, using ribbon and lace.

Later his family moved to Switzerland where he finishes the school and enrolled at the University of Geneva to study politics and law, but after one semester, Manolo transferred into literature and architecture. In 1965, he relocated to Paris to study art and stage design at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Louvre Art School.

In 1970 Blahnik moved to London, where he found work in a boutique, became a photographer for The Sunday Times, and became part of the fashionable art scene. While on a trip to New York City in 1971, his portfolio of drawings and set designs were seen by then editor of Vogue (U.S.), Diana Vreeland, who encouraged him to make shoes.

After returning to London, Blahnik began designing men's shoes for Zapata, a Chelsea boutique, which he soon found to be creatively limiting. In 1972, he got his first break when fashion designer Ossie Clark asked him to make shoes for his runway show. His first collection was a disaster, but fashion press was rather favorable.

Within a short period of time, Blahnik's footwear became sought after by fashion revue editors, hip young actresses and socialites, and established Hollywood stars like Lauren Bacall. He bought out Zapata's owner in 1973 and set up his own shop with sister Evangelina. In 1974, he appeared alongside Angelica Huston on the cover of British Vogue, becoming the first man to do so.

Blahnik broke into the U.S. market in 1978 when he launched his collection for Bloomingdale's. The following year, he opened his first American shop on New York's Madison Avenue. In 1980, he designed shoes for Perry Ellis. His sales in the U.S. began to soar after he hired George Malkemus, a copywriter in Bergdorf Goodman's marketing department, to be his business partner in 1982. While Manolo and Evangelina remained in charge of the European side of the business, Malkemus renegotiated Blahnik's existing U.S. distribution agreements.

In 1984, Blahnik was invited to create shoes for Calvin Klein's ready-to-wear collections, which taught him a lot about designing for a wider market. In 1988, he collaborated with fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. The first Manolo Blahnik store opened in Hong Kong in 1991, and the following year he created shoes for John Galliano's signature label. He continued collaborating with top fashion designers throughout the decade, notably Bill Blass, Caroline Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, all in 1994. By this point he had become famous, largely due in part to being named in several episodes of the British hit comedy Absolutely Fabulous. He re-teamed with Galliano for Galliano's first couture collection for Christian Dior, in 1997.

Thanks to another popular TV show, Blahnik's designs received mass exposure for an American audience, as HBO's Sex and the City helped make "Manolo Blahnik" virtually a household name in the U.S., thanks mostly to Sarah Jessica Parker's character's shoe obsession. In 2000, Blahnik received the Nieman Marcus Award, while the following year he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from London's Royal College of Arts and was also made an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry. He also received La Aguja de Oro (The Golden Needle) from Spain in 2001, and the prestigious Medalla de Oro en Merito en las Bellas Artes in 2002. Blahnik became the first shoe designer to be honored with an exhibition at London's Design Museum, which ran from February to May (2003).

Blahnik currently resides in a Georgian home in Bath, England, along with some 10,000 pairs of what he jokingly refers to as his "stupid shoes."