Film Review: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards

This tinselly doc about an eminent shoe designer is a very shiny object lacking a substantive core.
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Before celebrity shoe designer Christian Louboutin with his ubiquitous red-soled, high-priced high heels, there was Manolo Blahnik, who, in the opinion of this writer, shod his feminine clientele with far more elegance, artistry and comfort. His unlikely name obviously tickled the late playwright Wendy Wasserstein, for she featured it in her play The Sisters Rosensweig. Blahnik found later renown in the series “Sex and the City,” which featured Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw utterly obsessed with his footwear, not to mention the famous annual sale in his midtown salon that often had women behaving like jungle savages in Chanel.

Personally, Blahnik is as flamboyant as any true Emperor of Fashion ought to be, and then some. In his impeccable bespoke suits, he’s as colorful as a parrot. Parrot-like too is his voice, high-pitched and raucously unbridled. He has been a major force in fashion for three decades, at least. Michael Robert's affectionate, enthralled tribute, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, is studded with interviews with the style elite—Anna Wintour, with her doffed shades a sign of the most humbled respect, and Naomi Campbell—extolling his talent and huge personality. And when his chum, the brilliant but troubled designer John Galliano (perhaps the greatest of them all), comes to call,  their ear-splitting exchange may put you in mind of the near-obsolete, decidedly un-politically correct term "screaming queens."

Born in the Canary Islands to an aristocratic, affluent family, Blahnik was interested in fashion from an early age, poring over his mother’s copies of Vogue and creating tiny tin foil shoes for the lizards on the family estate. His parents’ dream of him becoming a diplomat were shattered when he moved to Paris and then London, where he worked as a buyer for a boutique. In 1970, style doyenne Diana Vreeland, whom he met on a visit to New York, looked at his portfolio of fashion designs and suggested he do accessories, namely shoes. A monstre sacré was thus born.Blahnik’s friendships with the cream of the fashion pack—Karl Lagerfeld, Loulou de la Falaise, Yves Saint Laurent, model Tina Chow (his ideal woman), Andy Warhol—as well as his innate good taste and creativity ensured his success. Since then, he has collaborated with all of the top designers to come down the pike and is regarded as one of the high eminences in the industry, with coffee table books and retrospectives to further glorify his brand.

One can see why Roberts thought Blahnick would make a good subject, but for whatever reason—whether Roberts’ reticence with Blahnik’s formidably haughty personality or the latter’s intractability (he originally wanted to only be photographed from behind)—the film does not go deep enough. Although we see Blahnik’s exquisite flagship store in London and his inviting home and gardens in Bath, we really don’t experience too much of the man, apart from a lot of shriekingly outrageous pronouncements. About his personal life or companions, we learn nothing. We are merely left with the designer’s statement of being beyond any romantic attachments. There is footage, revealing the confidence and flair of a real artist, showing Blahnik sketching his beautiful shoes. A short visit to the factory that manufactures his creations should have been longer. Some added seriousness does evince itself when Blahnik describes his lifelong idol, the multi-talented Cecil Beaton. Photographer David Bailey, who offers some entertainly salty observations here, made a film about Beaton, excerpts of which are included. Those few minutes, in which the aged style wunderkind talks about posing for the camera, have a real depth and intimacy which is decidedly lacking in all of the footage featuring Blahnik.

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