Manolo Blahnik celebrates the art of shoemaking in latest addition to his expansive digital archive

Lauded shoe designer Manolo Blahnik speaks to Wallpaper* about the new space – part of a digital archive project started in 2021 – which centres on the craft behind the brand’s signature footwear

Manolo Blahnik Craft Room Stills
‘The Craft’ experience by Manolo Blahnik explores the process behind the brand’s signature shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy of Manolo Blahnik)

In 2021, to celebrate half a century in business, lauded Spanish shoe designer Manolo Blahnik eschewed a typical retrospective for an expansive digital project which would allow viewers – wherever they may be in the world – to encounter his designs, alongside rare sketches, film clips, unseen photographs, portraits and newspaper cuttings, in a series of virtual ‘rooms‘. ‘He never wants his shoes to be displayed under glass,’ Kristina Blahnik, the brand’s CEO, told Wallpaper* on its opening. ‘The doors of our archive should be blown open, for people to explore.’

Two years and a million visitors later, Manolo Blahnik has chosen to rearrange his eponymous archives by closing two of the original ‘rooms’ and opening a new space which celebrates the intricate craft of shoemaking which lies behind his designs (as such, it is called ‘The Craft’). ‘I want to highlight all of the work that the artisans do,’ he tells Wallpaper*. ’ I hope it showcases that I would be nowhere without their magic hands. Our company is a family-run business with a family mindset – behind each of my shoes are the personal relationships I have with our artisans that have lasted for years and years. You can have an amazing drawing, but it is the artisans that make the shoe come to life.’

Manolo Blahnik expands his digital archive

Manolo Blahnik Craft Room Stills

A Manolo Blahnik shoe being crafted in the brand’s Italian factory

(Image credit: Courtesy of Manolo Blahnik)

Dissecting the anatomy of a Manolo Blahnik shoe, ’The Craft’ is divided into eight different areas of shoemaking. These include ‘The Design’, which explores the origin of a shoe in Manolo Blahnik’s distinct original sketches, ‘Construction’, which looks towards the technical mastery behind each pair, and ‘Materials’, which explores the designer’s love of texture. ‘There is a sensuality about fabric that I love,’ he says. ‘I have been exploring textiles for nearly five decades. I love satin, taffeta, silk... I find cashmere and velvet ravishing.’

Of the over 100 pieces of content, navigated from a recreation of Manolo Blahnik’s desk, the designer says he particularly enjoys a section exploring his own eclectic inspirations. ‘I tend to have the ability to find beauty where no one sees it,’ he says. ‘One thing may be horrendous for other people but for me it is beautiful. I think people may be surprised where certain inspirations come from and how they translate into a shoe.’

Manolo Blhanik The Craft experience

A still from the Xydrobe ‘The Craft’ experience

(Image credit: Courtesy of Manolo Blahnik)

There is also a focus on the Manolo Blahnik factory, which is located just outside of Milan. Acquired in 2019, Re Marcello – a historic shoe factory previously owned by the Re family – had been producing Manolo Blahnik’s designs for over 35 years prior to being purchased by the brand. ‘Craftmanship is in their blood, passed down over generations,’ says Manolo Blahnik. ‘The team there know exactly what I am thinking and strives to bring all my creations to life, even the most intricate and embellished designs, always pushing boundaries to ensure complete perfection.’

Though ‘The Craft’ opened earlier this month (October 2023), this week sees the launch of a new immersive experience from the brand, created in collaboration with Xydrobe. First revealed late in 2022, Xydrobes are physical fibreglass spheres which shoppers can step inside and experience a tailor-made VR journey from a brand, complete with temperate changes, a scent machine, and a headset which tracks eye movement. ‘Customers can get access to a unique landscape that the brands have designed themselves that can either speak to the history or future of the brand, its present day, but it doesn't look anything like a shop,’ Xydrobe CEO Nell Lloyd-Malcolm told Wallpaper* in December 2022.

Manolo Blahnik Xydrobe

The Manolo Blahnik ‘Xydrobe’

(Image credit: Courtesy of Manolo Blahnik)

One of the first Xydrobe projects to take place in the start-up’s Mayfair space, ‘The Craft’ is a limited-edition multi-sensory experience that will allow a small selection of guests to enjoy a journey through the digital archive – here complete with ‘sound, scent and wind... [to discover] the unexplored locations and inspirations at the core of the brand.’

‘You must adapt to a changing world to grow,’ says Manolo Blahnik of expanding into the digital realm. ‘There is a lot of freedom. Even if I don't like something, I follow it, because I'm interested in knowing everything, and when I’m on the train or at the airport I go on Instagram to investigate what is being done with footwear. The fact that the archive is online means anyone is able to see it from anywhere in the world. How exciting!’

Discover the ’The Craft Room’ here

Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*, joining the team in 2022. Having previously been the digital features editor at AnOther and digital editor at 10 and 10 Men magazines, he has also contributed to titles including i-D, Dazed, 10 Magazine, Mr Porter’s The Journal and more, while also featuring in Dazed: 32 Years Confused: The Covers, published by Rizzoli. He is particularly interested in the moments when fashion intersects with other creative disciplines – notably art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and reporting from international fashion weeks. Across his career, he has interviewed the fashion industry’s leading figures, including Rick Owens, Pieter Mulier, Jonathan Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss and Manolo Blahnik.