The Manolo Blahnik Archives: A New Way of Walking

By Lottie Moss, Archive Assistant (Digital) at Manolo Blahnik

In this week's blog, Lottie Moss, Costume Society member and Archive Assistant (Digital) at Manolo Blahnik, takes us behind the scenes of the launch of the virtual exhibition: The Manolo Blahnik Archives: A New Way of Walking

To mark the 50th anniversary of Manolo Blahník’s career as a designer and applied artist, for the first-time key styles from the Manolo Blahnik Archives have been made available for a global audience through the launch of the virtual exhibition: The Manolo Blahnik Archives: A New Way of Walking. Spanning five ‘rooms’, the breadth of the Archive is represented with key drawings and shoes carefully selected by Professor Judith Clark in collaboration with Mr. Blahnik and the Archive team.

The exhibition showcases Mr Blahnik’s evolution as an illustrator, primarily using pencil and inks to communicate his initial designs and then refining and enlarging the drawings to promote his current collections in single page print advertisements. The objects exhibited chronologically encompass Mr Blahnik’s first known shoe sketch from March 1971 to a recent drawing from June 2020.

The latter date is an indication of how this project came to be possible. The first lockdown in Spring 2020 afforded the Manolo Blahnik Archive team the opportune moment to formally catalogue the drawings within the Archive Collection. In turn, this allowed for professional digitisation to commence with the help of external partners, thus facilitating the process of digital curation during the summer of 2021.

The digital exhibition was built under the guidance of Kristina Blahnik, Mr. Blahnik’s niece and CEO of the company, whose architectural vision informed the experience. Unlike a physical exhibition, it was noted that a visitor could land within the virtual space from hundreds of entry points, as each object is ‘sharable’ via a hyperlink. Therefore, a more holistic curatorial approach to each room was important, to convey an understanding of Mr Blahnik’s work and his references. As a polymath, Mr Blahnik’s allusions can be clear, such as homages to Pablo Picasso and the Commedia del Arte; or more obscure, with ‘Everything together: The Middle Ages as seen in the cinema, revolutionary Russia, but using colours from Byzantine mosaics’ as quoted in an article by Anna Piaggi, a dear friend, in Italian Vogue 1977. All these references relate to the ‘Picasso’ shoe from 1977 [as pictured]. The dual ambiguity and clarity of inspiration encapsulates the joy of curating and cataloguing objects designed by Manolo Blahnik, symbiotically witty and rooted in reference.

From an archivist’s perspective, one of the most challenging factors was ensuring that the digital representation of the physical artwork was as accurate as possible. We carefully reviewed every digital capture with our external digitisation partners, alongside the sketch, under controlled lighting to ensure that the materiality of paper, variety of colour and assortment of mark-making techniques were visible within the digital format. It was a pleasure to spend dedicated time looking at each object, co-incidentally building a visual language, learning the details that would allow us to date a drawing and, on occasion, we discovered the name of a shoe style that had previously only been known by its production code.

As the museum and private sector increasingly explore the realms of digital exhibition making, the Manolo Blahnik Archives: A New Way of Walking will continue to evolve; sharing the treasures of the Archive, laced with intriguing references that will hopefully inspire interest and bring a smile to all those who visit.

 

On 14 December 2021, Lottie Moss joined Judith Clark, curator and exhibition-maker, to discuss with the Costume Society The Manolo Blahnik Archives ‘A New Way of Walking’. The conversation consideed digitised objects, the cultural touchpoints created, and curating in a digital realm. 

Costume Society members have access to exclusive events such as Judith Clark's discussion. 

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