How SJP met Manolo Blahnik

"Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world" Marilyn Monroe

On Saturday, a group of women gathered at Neiman Marcus to watch a parade of gorgeous shoes walk down a carpeted runway.  George Malkemus, President of Manolo Blahnik, was in store to share with us the Spring collection of shoes.  Everything from high heels to flats were showcased on the feet of the models, who showed the shoes in a graceful fashion.

Mr. Malkemus has been president of the famed shoe company for 30 years, since buying the rights to North and South America from Mr. Blahnik in 1982, when they bonded over their love and ownership of Scottish Terriers.  While one is the creative designer, the other is financially savvy -- a partnership from which many an elegant woman benefit.

Mr. Malkemus told us the story behind each shoe and how comfort is the most important element when designing the classic, never trendy shoes.  "The shoe should never be the totality of the woman, but always a complimenting factor," he told us.  If you have trouble wearing slingbacks it's because you have a narrow heel. (Marc Jacobs puts a dab of mustache wax on the heels of his models to secure the skinny slingback straps.)

As the last model walked down the runway in the shoes that Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie lost on an episode of Sex and the City (When Tatem O'Neil required her guests to remove their shoes before entering her home for a baby shower) we were told the story of Sarah Jessica Parker and how her connection with Manolo came to be...

 

 

Many years ago, when SJP was dating Robert Downey Jr. (we're talking 80's here), the dynamic shoe duo were having a trunk show in Los Angeles.  The new starlet asked Mr. Blahnik if she could purchase three pairs of shoes, but needed to put them on a layaway plan, as she couldn't afford to pay for them outright.  Mr. Blanhik, hailing from Italy and confused by the term "layaway" asked Mr. Malkemus how they should proceed?  For the first, and only, time they agreed to the layaway plan.  Several years later, when Sex and the City burst onto the TV and cultural scene, Ms. Parker repaid the company by requesting that Manolo Blahnik shoes be used on the show and in the movie.

Neiman Marcus was the first department store to purchase the shoes, initially securing a total of 60 pairs, 30 for Beverly Hills and 30 for their San Fransisco store.  How the times have changed! The shoes are now available in all Neiman stores, as well as Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, as well as in 14 independent retailers and two stand-alone stores, in New York and Las Vegas.

The day wrapped with Mr. Malkemus in the shoe salon, assisting women with their selection and doing what Mr. Blahnik credits him as doing best, "knowing what women want."

Who is Christian?

Christian Louboutin, that is.  With a loyal following, full of taste makers and trendsetter, one would have to assume his shoes have been on the scene for hundreds of years, with the name simply being the namesake of the original cobbler and creator of the brand. While the latter is indeed true, the former is not.  Mr. Louboutin tips his hat at a young 47 years of age and has been in the shoe business for a mere 20 years, little time compared to the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton, but in those 20 years, the man sure has shown his style!

In 1975, a young Christian L. was struck by a painting he saw at the African and Oceanic Art museum of a shoe with a sharp heel, slashed out with a red line. At 17 years young, Mr. Louboutin found himself as an apprentice, with no formal design training, working in the dressing rooms of the Parisian cabaret the Folies Bergere.  Watching the woman traipse up and down the stairs is where he learned that shoes are all about "posture and proportions."

Mr. Louboutin spent his first years in the business designing shoes for luxury fashion houses, such as Chanel, Maud Frizon and Yves Saint Laurent.  But, in 1992, he opened up shop in a 19th century French arcade. Taking a virtual stroll over to the Official Christian Louboutin website you'll find that his fondness for arcades extends out of the front door of his Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau storefront in Paris and onto your screen.  Upon landing, I find the image of the designer visually similar to Zoltar, tying in the arcade theme. However, in this case and different from Zoltar, Mr. Louboutin doesn't spit out your fortune, but holds his own fortune hovering between his hands. That my friends is the "Shop online" button.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The man, now selling his wares in 46 countries and approximately 20 boutique stores worldwide, is truly as elegant as his shoes. During an appearance in New York City, he canceled his flight to Paris, in order to stay and sign a show for every person in the line.  Talk about gracious and humble.

While his actions speak for volumes, there are others who have praised his work in actions.  In 2002, at the Yves Saint Laurent haute-couture show, Mr. Louboutin created a line entitled "Christian Louboutin for Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture 1962-2002."  Today, we see ABC for XYZ everywhere, for example Rodarte for Target or Rachel Roy for Macy's, but this was the first and only time that Saint Laurent associated his name with another designer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which brings us to an interesting intersection of fashion, red  heels and copyrighting.

Christian Louboutin lays claim to the red sole.  After looking at one too many boring, black shoe bottoms, realized something was needed to give the shoe a little "umph."  He grabbed an assistant's red nail polish and went to town on the bottom of a prototype.  The women already loved his shoes, the red soles were a hit with the men - win, win!  In 2007, he filed for U.S. trademark protection on his red shoe design.

Not so fast, says Yves Saint Laurent.

Mr. Louboutin and his lawyers took offense to shoes with a red sole in the YSL collection.  In fairness, the soles of the shoes in this particular collection are intended to match the color of the shoe itself, so if one purchases the red shoe, it will have a red sole.  YSL went on to tell the courts that Louis XIV of France and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz wore red-soled shoes, therefore, Mr. Louboutin does not have as "exclusive" rights to make scarlet soled shoes. Infringement cases are expensive, time consuming and difficult to prove... stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, the minute I see a red-soled shoe, I think of Louboutins. Tall and glamourous. Did you know the heal of the shoes are measured in millimeters? Starting on the smaller end with flats, then progressing to 45mm heal, 70mm, and gradually working their way up to a sky-high 150mm. Brilliant marketing and branding on with the red sole and long, lean heal... although, I have to say the sparkles, glitter and detail really help to make them eye-catching as well, and adored, as well.

Three coveted shoes, one incredible artistic impression

With chic snakeskin, these Celine will carry the wearer into Fall...

Love at first sight with these Rebecca Minkoff shoes...
Gorgeous, elegant Nicholas Kirkwood...an accessory in and of themselves! 

 And... the piece de resistance, Alexander McQueen! On display now, at the Met, these shoes are fanciful and full of whimsy.