Tuesday, 17 September 2019

An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at The Wallace Collection

I made a visit to the Wallace Collection to view the novel installation and placement against their collections of the much-coveted shoes of master shoemaker Manolo Blahnik. The shoes are presented under glass domes and juxtaposed against the antique objet d'art and historical paintings amassed by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess at Hertford House just off Oxford Street in Marylebone. There is a trend of curators placing craft, and design objects into established art collections. The current Elective Affinities: Edmund De Waal at the Frick Collection, in New York in which the ceramicist's work is placed into a similar setting of paintings and objet d'art is another such example, although not as successful in my opinion. I wasn't sure whether this mix of high art and that of a cordwainer would work as an exhibition, but any fears were dispelled on seeing the installation, as Blahnik throughout his career has been inspired by and reacted to the impressive historic paintings of well-to-do ladies held in the Wallace Collection. The designs of many of Blahnik's shoes are so timeless, and actually do look as though they could literally have walked out of the paintings on display. The shoes are a wonderful testament to Blahnik's whimsical visions, creative skills and craftsmanship. They seemed to be every bit as insanely creative as those spied in the accessories section of the excellent Dior exhibition which closed recently at the V&A museum. Blahnik, encouraged by Diana Vreeland, had his first runway collection in 1971 in collaboration with fashion designer Ossie Clarke. His shoes have become synonymous with style and luxury, and came to the attention of the consciousness of much of the general public through Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw character in the tv series Sex and the City, who had a huge fetish for, and collection of Manolo Blahnik shoes. Blahnik is clearly a creative at the very top of his game, and it is really inspiring to see the associations sparked between the installation of his shoe designs and the immaculately crafted period objects in the Wallace Collection. The exhibition was due to end on the 1st of September, but has been extended to 27th October because of increased visitor numbers. There is clearly an appetite and increased appreciation for aspects of fashion and design currently amongst the British public. The following paintings are among those in the Wallace Collection which have inspired Blahnik's designs.

François Boucher (1703 - 1770) - Madame de Pompadour, 1759

Joshua Reynolds (1723 - 1792) - Mrs Elizabeth Carnac, c.1775

Thomas Gainsborough (1727 - 1788) - Mrs Mary Robinson (Perdita), 1781

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)  
- Les hasards heureux de l'escarpolette (The Swing), c.1767-1768

The exhibition starts in the Wallace's grand entrance hall with this gorgeous series of Blahnik's original illustrated designs which have the same power and impact of those early Andy Warhol shoe advertising illustrations for I Miller in the 1950s.

You are then swept up the grand staircase to be greeted by this amazing rose trellis pair of sandals, and then on through a series of rooms in which Blahnik's shoes are presented under domes, and in cabinets, mingling with the  antique objects and paintings.

As good as the shoes are, they will never upstage the Rembrandts on display.

The placement of shoes and paintings in the Oval Drawing Room was just perfect, and one could easily envision Boucher's Mme de Pompadour, or the saucy temptress in Fragonard's The Swing sporting any of Blahnik's designs. Fittingly, Blahnik was responsible for designing the shoes displayed here for Sophia Coppola's award-winning 2006 film - Marie Antoinette. The diamante buckles, rosettes and extravagant ruffles made for the perfect period details.

An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at The Wallace Collection
until 1st September
The Wallace Collection
Hertford House
Manchester Square