Manolo Blahnik creates virtual world to mark 50th anniversary
Welcome to The Manolo Blahnik Archives: ‘A New Way of Walking’, a digital cosmos that marks the brand’s milestone anniversary, spanning five immersive rooms, curated alongside Judith Clark
The Palette Room
When Kristina Blahnik, CEO of Manolo Blahnik and a trained architect with experience in exhibition design, describes her perfect vision for The Manolo Blahnik Archives: ‘A New Way of Walking’, she references not a physical building, a modern or classical icon or a structure constrained by convention, but something akin to a jukebox. ‘Like a record player with stacks of vinyl that can pull out the record you want to play and drop it onto a turntable,’ she explains. ‘A stack of cylindrical spaces that you can dive into, coming out of one and into another.’
This celebratory Manolo Blahnik world – designed to mark the accessory label's 50th anniversary – does not exist in the physical realm, but as a virtual sphere, described by Kristina as an ‘anti-space' or ‘blank canvas', spanning different ‘rooms’, decades, themes and aesthetic milestones. It has been more than 18 months in the making. The ambitious and innovative project – democratic, global, and easily accessible and navigable – brings together archive sketches, film clips, unseen photographs, portraits and newspaper cuttings. It has been created in collaboration with Rōnin, an independent digital design studio based in Amsterdam, and curated alongside Judith Clark, the curator and fashion exhibition-maker who first met Mr Blahnik in 2006, when working on a show dedicated to his long-time friend and Italian style icon, Anna Piaggi, for London’s V&A museum.
‘I gravitate towards the colourful, complex and dramatic shoes in our archive,' says Kristina, who, back in 1999, undertook the project of photographing the label's historic range of shoes before digitising Blahnik's then-archive in 2006. ‘Judith is an incredibly powerful voice in fashion history and academia,’ she adds. ‘She helped us bring an objective eye to the project.'
Step into Manolo Blahnik’s magnificent virtual world
The Manolo Blahnik Archives: ‘A New Way of Walking’, is divided into five immersive, kaleidoscopic and time-travelling spaces. The Palette Room boasts 80 Blahnik sketches arranged in a spectrum of colour – including the tassel-swathed 2001 ‘Cadiz’ mule and the 1990 ‘Loggia’, a stiletto that laces up around the ankle with leather ivy – in celebration of the designer's renowned fondness for vibrancy. The 70s Room, lined floor to ceiling with a lustrous red curtain, hones in on how the style of Mr Blahnik – someone who began designing shoes quite unintentionally at the encouragement of Diana Vreeland – has evolved, pulling out, for example, the 1979 buckled ‘Marlene’ pump as a style that has inspired countless other creations.
The Gold Room hosts some of the designer's most exuberant designs on digital plinths and in mounted frames, accented with 18ct gold, pearls, and feathers dipped in gold. Marking his Midas touch, it also features contemporary golden silhouettes, from fringed boots to crystal-embellished mules, that are part of the brand’s 50th anniversary capsule collection.
Clark was on hand to help Kristina and Monolo Blahnik's archive team streamline the sketches and shoe styles that are featured across the brand's virtual world. ‘I realised that the sketches I was drawn to were ones that somehow performed a double task – they were wonderful drawings, but they also revealed what I love about Mr Blahnik’s work, and that is the almost infinite references that are translated into shoes,' says Clark. She also recorded an audio guided tour for each of the rooms and developed a storytelling layer, with explanatory text that hovers over different objects. ‘What I concentrated on was to show some of the breadth of his passions; art, history, film, food, gardens, it is endless, and in a virtual space it is absolutely unpredictable what the visitor will see. I love the fact that one will come away with a story about Versailles, another [with a story] about a garden, another [with a story] about a Venetian chopine.'
Two rooms also touch on the close relationships that Mr Blahnik has cultivated over the last half-decade. In the Friendships room, the brand celebrates lasting role models and friends, including Dianna Vreelend, Anna Wintour, Tina Chow, Grace Coddington and Anna Piaggi, to whom Blahnik dedicated two shoe styles. The ambitious and intimate Our Family room features a portrait of every single person who works at the family-run brand, shaped into a pointillist physiognomy of Mr Blahnik himself. The portraits were photographed in person and via Zoom, in the US, UK, Paris and Switzerland. ‘The experience of everyone having their photograph taken was such a community moment,' Kristina says. ‘People in our factory were baking and bringing in cakes in the shapes of shoes.’
The power of Manolo Blahnik Archives: ‘A New Way of Walking’, lies not only in the incredible attention to detail dedicated to celebrating the brand's remarkable history – accented with personal touches like soundbites from Mr Blahnik, and digital flourishes of his pencil or watercolour paintbrush – but in the future possibilities it encourages. ‘He's never wanted to exhibit his shoes under glass,' Kristina says. ‘The doors of our archive should be blown open, for people to explore. This isn't an exhibition that will only be open in one place for a short period of time. This is a modular concept which can cater to new spaces, stories and cultural moments. We are launching the very beginning of a new journey.'
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