Manolo Blahnik outside his exhibitionAn Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection
COURTESY OF THE WALLACE COLLECTION
Manolo Blahnik, his lilac suit and rose-pink velvet slippers a personal artistic installation, sat on a purple velvet sofa at London’s Wallace Collection.
I almost expected to see that pink satin shoe, kicked from the swing towards a lustful lover in the infamous Fragonard painting. After all, that image hung on the outside of the historic London museum with the words:An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at The Wallace Collection(10 June to 1 September).
That particular art work ‘The Swing’ from 1767 – so tiny compared to expectations – appeared in an upstairs room of the museum, seen after I had been shown the grand red staircase and began to understand the artistic co View this post on Instagram
That particular art work ‘The Swing’ from 1767 – so tiny compared to expectations – appeared in an upstairs room of the museum, seen after I had been shown the grand red staircase and began to understand the artistic concept of director and co-curator Dr Xavier Bray.
A pairing of shoes and Jean-Honoré Fragonard's oil painting ‘The Swing’ from the exhibitionAn Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection
“When I prepared for Mr Blahnik’s visit, I went around and looked at every single shoe in the paintings and suddenly wondered why I had not engaged with what they were wearing in terms of shoes,” the co-curator said. “You’ve got Madame de Pompadour wearing the most wonderful silk satin shoes – but in a way that was too easy. What was more interesting was how Mr Blahnik looked at it.”
Dr Xavier Bray, director of the Wallace Collection and co-curator of the exhibitionAn Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection
The concept was to leave the choice to the incontestable poet of footwear and to see how he, with the encouragement of his CEO and niece Kristina Blahnik, would place shoes in the 10 historic rooms beside the objects gathered by the original collectors.
A room in the exhibitionAn Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection
COURTESY OF THE WALLACE COLLECTION
“Wallace is the most extraordinary collection because it is like a capsule of taste in the 19th century. It was brought together by one family: the Marquesses of Hertford and the illegitimate son of the fourth Marquess, Sir Richard Wallace,” Bray explained. “They bought different things from Renaissance bronzes to Boulle furniture – the diversity is extraordinary – but that reflects the diversity of many of the shoes.”
‘The Laughing Cavalier’ (1624) by Frans Hals paired with a Manolo Blahnik boot on display inAn Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection
Manolo adds that he is inspired by any painting “with a little bit of gold frames – and dogs”. On a more conventional level, there is the shoe he designed for the 2006 Sofia Coppola movieMarie Antoinette.
Olvida, a Manolo Blahnik shoe from the exhibitionAn Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection
“I spent half of my life in here,” said Manolo, as he explained the connection in his mind’s eye between the curving china with its encrusted small pieces of decoration – and his own bootee with graphic daisies.”
Throughout the exhibition, the choice of object in the gathering of exquisite pieces is matched by a Manolo shoe. In some cases, the footwear is brought together like a graceful bouquet, one piece with a cluster of colourful feathers.
The skill of this exhibition is in the depth and breadth of the work – and the delicate stories of both creator and curation.
Some of the most elegant pieces are Manolo’s drawings: so precise, yet poetic.
This kind of museum mash-up is relatively rare, compared to the number of single-subject fashion shows, often created by a high fashion company as not much more than an entertaining promotion.
But after the dynamic and original exhibition of the work of milliner Stephen Jones at the Brighton Pavilion this year, it looks like the relationship between art and fashion creation could be offering a fresh vision.
An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collectionis at the Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square London W1U 3BN from 10 June to 1 September 2019 and entry is free.wallacecollection.org