Think of Manolo Blahník and you instantly think of fairy-tale shoes; beautiful handmade creations that have an ethereal beauty to them, that make you second guess whether they are actual, wearable shoes or works of art.
This summer, The Wallace Collection in London hosts a special exhibition in partnership with Manolo Blahník, sharing the stories behind Blahník’s most iconic heels, boots and slippers. A long-time admirer of the collection at Hertford House - the former townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford - Blahník has repeatedly sought inspiration from the staggering collection to fuel many of his lines of footwear. This exhibition guides you on a journey through various rooms on the first floor connecting artwork, furniture design, fabric patterns and ceramics that have all proved inspirational to Blahník.
A delicate daisy pattern on two oversized urns can be seen repeated in chic ankle boots whilst the gilded metalwork of a Boulle wardrobe is reflected in the bold buckles on stilettos. Journeying through to the Oval Drawing Room, one can see the direct inspiration for the iconic pink shoes made for Sofia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette. Boucher’s Mme de Pompadour depicts a jovial woman swinging from a verdant seat, flirtatiously flicking her pink satin slipper off to the side of the frame – perhaps towards her lover. This painting effortlessly sums up the beauty and frivolity of Blahník’s designs; the rich colour palette of greens, turquoise and soft pink with the frothy textures of her silk dress and lace bonnet reflecting the delicacy and craftsmanship of the Manolo Blahník shoe.
This exhibition is a wonderful way to understand Blahník’s creative progress. Each room at Hertford House has its own identity – some rooms are sombre with artwork painted with passion and heartache, others are glistening with diamonds and delicate enamelware. Yet each room has provided the shoe designer with the perfect blend of emotion, craftsmanship and colour palette to ignite whole seasons’ worth of shoes.
It’s interesting to walk amongst the exhibition pieces and spot which painting is linked to which shoes and likewise it’s fascinating to think of a single location providing endless inspiration for just one designer. Blahník’s designs stand as a living legacy for the Seymour family’s home and passion for collecting and, whilst nothing in the home is current nor contemporary, Blahník has an ability to craft shoes that continuously feel fresh, modern and cutting edge.