Manolo Blahnik

Sarah Jessica Parker's Sex And The City character Carrie Bradshaw had her priorities clear in one episode of the series when she pleaded with a mugger: "You can take my Fendi baguette, you can take my ring and my watch, but don't take my Manolo Blahniks." Stylish, hand-crafted and expensive, Manolo's shoes are an asset to hang on to.

The mind behind the designs which Madonna once called "as good as sex" was born on November 28, 1942, in Santa Cruz de la Palma in Spain's Canary Islands. The son of wealthy parents his Czech father's family owned a Prague pharmaceutical firm, his Spanish mother's family ran a banana plantation Manolo Blahnik came from a long line of footwear appreciators. These included his mum, who made her own evening shoes when she wasn't purchasing custom designs from the island's prestigious shoemaker, Don Cristino.

Young Manolo revealed a flair for shoe design, and was soon dressing his pet dogs and monkeys in early versions of his exclusive footwear. "I made shoes for all of them, out of muslin and pink cotton ribbons," he says. "One dog would lie on his back and stick his paws up in the air for me while I tied the bows."

Sent to boarding school in Switzerland, Manolo went on to enroll at the University of Geneva, where he briefly read international law before heading off to the Louvre Art School in Paris to study stage design. A move to London in 1970 enabled him to get a foot in the door of the fashion world after he became a jeans buyer for a London boutique.

It was during a trip to New York in 1971 that then-US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland saw one of his set-design drawings, and, after noting the fabulous footwear on the people in the sketches, suggested he should change his field. Taking the fashion doyenne's advice, by 1973 Manolo had set up his own boutique, counting Bianca Jagger among his first customers.

In the ensuing decades he expanded to New York, Hong Kong and Beverly Hills, while maintaining his London headquarters. Now one of the most famous shoemakers in the world, he sells 60,000-70,000 pairs of his creations annually, to faithful clients such as Winona Ryder, Ivana Trump, Jennifer Aniston, and just about every supermodel in the world.

Manolo, who doesn't advertise or show his collections, says he tries to "never get into the trap of trends", preferring instead to maintain his hallmark light, feminine look. "My shoes don't change drastically from season to season," he says. "I think it's awfully rude to ask someone to pay a lot of money for a pair of shoes, and then have them be 'out' the next season. People are not stupid. They know what they want, and they should get it."

Fans of his work, however, should not expect to see Manolo's name on any products except his famous footwear, which he sketches and designs himself. "I hate those designers that branch out into eyewear and homewear and jeanswear, and all that," he insists. "I make shoes and I have no interest whatsoever in doing anything else."
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