Any devotee of the television series “Sex and the City” knew who Manolo was and why Carrie happily blew thousands of dollars on his gorgeous shoes.
Born in the Canary Islands to a Spanish mother and a Czech father, the acclaimed footwear designer Manolo Blahnik studied art and languages in Geneva before moving to Paris and working as a theater set designer. In 1970, the then editor in chief of American Vogue, Diana Vreeland, encouraged him to design shoes.
Two hundred of his designs, shoes, boots and sketches go on display in Toronto, in a show called “Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes,” which opens May 16 at the Bata Shoe Museum. It’s the exhibit’s only North American visit, the final stop in a tour that included St. Petersburg, Milan, Madrid and Prague. The show runs until Jan. 6, 2019.
Mr. Blahnik will be speaking at the museum on May 16.
His colorful and exuberant designs include beads, feathers, lace and even semiprecious stones. His favorite materials are textiles — especially silk, satin and taffeta. “I belong to the 18th century,” he said.
The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Blahnik about his work, the show and the museums he likes to visit.
How has the exhibition been received so far?
The show at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg was the first one they’ve done focused on fashion and on shoes. I feel very proud of that, but was also nervous. An incredible amount of people came, old and young. They saw the shoes as objects, not as a shoe. I found them much more observant of the work than other Europeans. I was shocked, but also inspired to have a reaction like that. Russia really was the most interesting, as this kind of exhibition is unusual for them. They even wrote me poems in Cyrillic.
Prague is a small, beautiful town, and I am also half-Czech. The show in Madrid was very successful. On the first day, we had 3,500 visitors lining up. After all, Madrid is my city. As for Milan — I work there and people really admire me there.
Do you enjoy meeting the public at these shows?
I do think I owe people this moment of contact. I like to meet people. I like to see their reaction. This is the only way to share with people what I do. To give them some pleasure. Every day should be fun in your work.
Tell us about some of the designs in the show.
The idea for the thigh-high Rihanna boots came to me from a visit outside Paris. I saw some fishermen in the river with boots that high, so I did it in satin. I see something no one else does.
The Ossie Clark shoes from 1971 are my favorite — ivy green with ivy leaves going up the leg. It includes cherries, something I’m still doing. I love cherries! I put them everywhere.
I do an incredible amount of flats. Sometimes a woman is more feminine in flat shoes. But high heels do have one advantage. It’s a transformation, a piece of theater. You move differently. You sway.
What inspires you?
Galleries, museums, the world. I’m very curious. I’m a museum addict. It’s like a drug to me. In New York, I do love the Met and MoMA, which is right next to our office. But my favorite, favorite, favorite is the British Museum. I love the huge rooms filled with Greek statues.
What tools do you use? Camera? Instagram?
I’m a visual person, so I remember what I see. I don’t even do mood boards. I think social media is very, very dangerous for creative people now. The internet doesn’t do anything for me. Most of the time it’s confusing to see other people’s work. It’s too much.
How has your work evolved over 45 years?
If I think I’ve done a design before, immediately it’s out. I try to edit myself when I see something I’ve done before. I might try using new materials, like titanium or PVC. I use all the new materials. I’m now using farmed crocodile from Louisiana. I love it!
Which current shoe designers do you admire?
I’m a victim of the old ways. I was distraught when [the fashion designer] Azzedine Alaïa died. It’s a very, very short list of designers. I’ve been trying to tell people that success in this world is not something quick. But Pierre Hardy — that boy is incredible. I adore him!