In the fashion world, the name Manolo instantly brings to mind a plethora of cutting edge shoe designs from close to fifty years of fashion. With a net worth of approximately $200 million, Manolo Blahnik is undoubtably one of the richest, most influential figures in the fashion world – but as debutant director Michael Roberts’ film Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards attests, he couldn’t be further from the glamorous image you imagine. He has a love of making people feel beautiful with his weird and wonderful shoe designs, yet he has no love whatsoever for experiencing the fame that goes hand in hand with success in this industry.
Tracing his life all the way back from his childhood to his current status as a legend still looming large over the world of fashion, the documentary equally informs viewers of how he became an icon of near-mythical status, as well as hilariously peeling back the curtain to reveal the socially awkward man behind the lofty persona. We are treated to fashion experts, supermodels from the last forty years and some of the world’s most glamorous celebrities waxing lyrical about his shoes- but also about their love for a germaphobic man, who still spends every morning in his workshop crafting new designs, unfazed by his riches or continued success.
The documentary may offer a comprehensive look at Manolo’s life, with his interviews presenting a witty but fairly blasé attitude to key successes, but it’s the little details that barely register as footnotes in his story that resonated strongly for me. It’s hard to humanise a fashion industry titan, especially one so rich and ripe for caricature. However, hearing about Manolo (to name two of the countless memorable examples) locking himself in his Paris home to avoid the 1968 riots because he didn’t want to be near sweaty crowds, or his sheer revulsion at the concept of pouring vinegar on to fish and chips, adds a shade of oddball humanity to his character. As somebody who is illiterate when it comes to fashion, I can only really assess somebody’s genius in this field via how distinct their character is and how that affects their approach to work. In this regard at least, Manolo deserves all the plaudits – he views all aspects of life in a manner completely detached from societal norms.
Although this is a general biographical documentary, I was impressed by how much time was devoted to the art that inspired Manolo, instead of solely focusing on his work devoid of any context. We see the photography, clothing, personalities and films that make him tick – as well as the lasting impression they all left on him, with their disparate influences still repeatedly turning up in his work. I got the feeling he was more comfortable talking about the things he loved, as opposed to the things he made; he can seemingly talk for hours about topics ranging from his love of Burt Lancaster’s The Leopard (which he still watches twice a year), to his belief that Rihanna is the modern day Grace Kelly. When he does talk about his work, he seems most illuminating when describing his work ethic- turning up at his workshop at 8am every morning to continue his creative process.
Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards is at its best when exploring the intimate sides of Manolo’s personality, or exploring his artistic influences at length. He is a witty, engaging screen presence that is fun to spend time with – and a figure likeable enough to keep me consistently interested in a subject I would otherwise not have remotely cared about.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Music Box Films