It has been 35 years since a certain Manolo Blahnik from the Canary Islands shook up the world's footwear market with the thin, sharp toe-tips, hourglass heels and sleek body of his shoes. The number of devotees has steadily increased over the decades, with some even buying two pairs of each model, one for wear and one for display. The Chosun Ilbo has the lowdown on the secret of Manolo Blahnik's success.
One powerful factor is conspicuous consumption. At the Manolo Blahnik shop on the second floor of Shinsegae Department Store's main branch, showcased models seem more suitable to being displayed in a gallery than in a department store. They include crystal gem or pearl encrusted shoes, colorful sling backs and black silk shoes with embroidered flower design. Basic shoes in the Pumps Line cost W800,000 to W900,000 (US$1=W938), and some shoes with jewel decoration go for rather more than W1 million. The Maripum, which are made from crocodile skin, cost W4.27 million -- three pairs buy you a small compact car.
The high price has not hurt sales. And it's not only stars and jetsetters who love Manolo Blahnik shoes. A staffer at the store says many housewives buy the jewelry-encrusted shoes on impulse, saying how beautiful and comfortable they are and how they make them feel better.
The shoes certainly look anything but sensible. They are bold with sensual designs: straps look like they're dancing on the ankles and the lines of the body and heel glow with voluptuous charm.
Yet while the shoes are stylish, they are not affected by passing fads. When everyone else was making wedge heels or platform shoes, Blahnik ignored them. There are several stalwarts in the collection, such as the d'Orsay in which the vamp and sides are cut away, the backless Mule and Mary Jane with a rounded toe and a single strap. He has made variations with stitching and materials based on a few dozen basic frames. "Since my customers have their own unique taste, I don’t need to give them something trendy," the designer says. He is convinced that his designs transcend commercial fashion.
Yet new Manolo Blahnik shoes always create a buzz. This year, he designed the shoes for the movie "Marie-Antoinette," which depicts the lavish, doomed life of the French queen, creating shoes decorated with ribbons and curtain fabric. He has launched a Marie-Antoinette limited edition priced at W3 million to W4 million.
Manolo Blahnik has independent boutiques in only eight cities including New York, London, Hong Kong and Moscow, with two more, in Istanbul and Singapore due to open. In Korea, he has two, at Shinsegae Department Store and the Galleria Department Store. After sending dozens of basic frames to the stores, the shoemaker designs and produces shoes tailored to local customers' demand and taste. The preference for height of heels and materials, such as enamel, crocodile skin, calfskin and fabric, varies from country to country. In Korea, gem-studded shoes with 9 cm heels are especially popular.