Αυτό το παπούτσι δεν θα πουλήσει ποτέ στο Λονδίνο» αναστενάζει ο Μανόλο Μπλάνικ, κρατώντας τρυφερά στα χέρια του το μεταξωτό μιουλ. «Καταλαβαίνετε. Βρετανοί. Δικαιώματα των ζώων. Τέρμα το κυνήγι της αλεπούς. Είναι τρελό». Ξεφυσά. Δείχνει πληγωμένος. Πολιτικά ορθό ή μη, αυτό το ψηλοτάκουνο Μανόλο Μπλάνικ μού προκαλεί μια έντονη επιθυμία να το χαϊδέψω· να του βάλω λουρί· να χουζουρέψω μαζί του στο κρεβάτι. Εδώ και πάνω από 30 χρόνια ο Μπλάνικ σχεδιάζει παπούτσια βγαλμένα από παραμύθι: παπούτσια με στρας, παγιέτες, φιόγκους, κορδέλες, μεταξωτό μπροκάρ, κομμάτια από κοράλλι, γούνα (από εκτρεφόμενα ζώα, όπως τονίζει ο ίδιος), δέρμα αλιγάτορα, φτερά στρουθοκαμήλου – τα πάντα εκτός, ίσως, από χαίτη μονόκερου…
Το άρθρο της Κάθι Νιούμαν στο περιοδικό National Geographic το Σεπτέμβριο του 2006 είχε προκαλέσει πολλές αντιδράσεις ,τόσο θετικές όσο και αρνητικές.Το ζήτημα όμως είναι πως 6 χρόνια μετά εξακολουθεί να μας παρέχει ένα πλήθος πληροφοριών για τα παπούτσια,αφού μπορεί κανείς να αντιληφθεί,όπως τονίζει,ότι οι διακυμάνσεις της ευμάρειας μία κοινωνίας κάποιες φορές μπορεί να διακρίνεται από το ύψος του τακουνιού!
The Joy of Shoes
«It will never sell in London,» Manolo Blahnik sighs, cradling the silk-and-fur mule. «You know. The British. Animal rights. No foxhunting. No shooting birds. It is crazy.» He huffs. Looks hurt. «They won’t buy this shoe, but—they’ll eat rabbits and poor little animals like that.» There is a giggle like the splash of water in a fountain.
Politically correct or not, there is an irresistible urge to pet this shoe; put it on a leash; take it to bed. It is a Manolo Blahnik high heel, and for more than 30 years, Blahnik has designed shoes that are the accessory to a fairy tale: Shoes made of rhinestones, feathers, sequins, buttons, bows, beads, grommets, rings, chains, ribbons, silk brocade, bits of coral, lace, fur (from farm-raised animals, he adds), alligator, ostrich—everything, perhaps, but woven unicorn forelock.
Blahnik is a rara avis himself—an exotic hummingbird. He speaks in exclamation points. He will not sit still. He jumps up from the chair in his office with walls of dove-wing gray on King’s Road—a bird flushed from cover. He exclaims, enthuses—he is all flourishes, rococo gestures, exquisite manners; impossibly elegant, spotlessly groomed with silver hair combed straight back. There is the glen-plaid double-breasted suit, a purple-yellow-and-white knit tie, and—peeking out from the sleeve of a blue cotton shirt—a red crocodile band attached to a gold Swiss watch. The shoes are size 42 1⁄2 buckskin oxfords made for him at his factory in Milan. «I dress like a banker,» he says when asked if the suit is custom-made. (It is.)
The story has been told before, «but»—he shrugs—»it is the only story I have.» After studying art and literature in Geneva, Blahnik fell in with the fashion crowd in New York and met Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Vogue. Vreeland looked at his sketches. Do accessories—pretty little things, she said airily. And so he has. A «Manolo» is the Sex and the City shoe (in one episode Carrie realized she could have made a down payment on a New York apartment for what she spent on shoes), a generic term for a high heel, and the inspiration for Madonna’s remark that his shoes are as good as sex, and «last longer.»
Ladies, listen. When Manolo dies, there will be no more Manolos. There is no heir or protégé. No big luxury goods conglomerate like LVMH waiting in the wings. No. No. No. When Blahnik has gone to that great shoe box in the sky, Manolos are finished. Done. Not for Manolo Blahnik a label without the real person behind it. Not like Christian Dior (died in 1957), Coco Chanel (1971), or Roger Vivier (1998), labels that survive under the aegis of others. Consider Salvatore Ferragamo (died in 1960) whose dynasty rests in the hands of his children and grandchildren. Blahnik darts off to fetch a photograph of the Italian who immigrated to California in 1914 and became shoemaker to the stars. The photograph shows Ferragamo, his big, broad face and broader smile, surrounded by the lasts of the actresses—Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren—for whom he made shoes. «Look at that face,» he says. «He is a peasant! Brilliant. But a peasant!»
Ferragamo insisted style was not enough; shoes must be comfortable. And Blahnik? What about complaints that his shoes are torture? «I haven’t heard that,» he responds. «Women tell me they love my shoes. Some never take them off.»
But isn’t a shoe really a corset for the foot?
«Yes. But a corset you adore.»
The mood shifts. Blahnik turns somber. The day before, an earthquake in Pakistan has killed 73,000, leaving uncounted injured, obliterating entire villages. The headlines weep tragedy. «I am embarrassed,» he says. «People are dying and I do these frivolous things.» The hand slaps his forehead as if in penance, then he opens a cupboard. There are six rows of shoes. They gleam like treasure. He lifts one out. «This one is inspired by Catherine the Great,» he explains, placing the shoe on the table for contemplation. It is a glorious fantasy of silk brocade, velvet ribbons, chinchilla: lush, powerful, yet fragile.
Still, it is pointed out, it is only a shoe.
Blahnik nods. «Yes, only a shoe, but if I provide escape for the woman who wears it, if for only a few minutes, it brings a bit of happiness to someone, well, then, perhaps, it is something more than a shoe.»
Sagebrush bark fiber, Fort Rock Cave, Oregon, 8500 B.C
Ease your hand gently along the insole of the sagebrush bark fiber sandal in the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History, and you can feel the imprint of a big toe in what may be the world’s oldest existing example of footwear. The sandal, found in Fort Rock Cave in central Oregon in 1938, may be 10,500 years old, and was worn by a native North American who lived in caves during the winter months and hunted in marshes in summer.
«These are the traces of human lives,» says Tom Connolly, the museum’s research director. «The worn heel pockets on the sandals; the charred pinpricks on the toe flaps allow you to put yourself at a fireside. There’s the sense you get from an assemblage of sandals here, those big and worn, small and child-size, those caked in mud, that allows you to see them as products of real human families: mom, kids, dad, grandparents.»
Though humans may have wrapped their feet in skins earlier, Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, says sturdy shoes originated between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago. Trinkaus studied the foot bones of Neandertals living 100,000 to 40,000 years ago, compared them with the more delicate foot bones of our ancestors living 26,000 years ago, and concludes that shoe wearers developed weaker toes because of the reduced stress and increased support footwear allows. From there, shoes evolved like stone tools and art, with other advances in human culture.
Jenna Tedrick Kuttruff, a textile expert at Louisiana State University, points out that of the group of fiber sandals (some as old as 8,000 years) found in a Missouri cave she has examined, no two are alike. «The wearers of these shoes lived a subsistence existence,» she says. «They didn’t need to make each pair different. But it’s human nature to make things visually appealing, to make one pair a little more complex than others to set it apart from someone else’s.» The desire to wear something different, distinctive, and decorative—that is to say, the instinct for fashion—has been around for a very long time.
Natacha Marro for the House of Harlot, 32-inch-high (81 centimeters) black leather with four-inch (ten centimeters) heel, 2000
How is an in-your-face black leather thigh-high lace-up boot with a four-inch spike heel like a man’s black calf lace-up oxford? They are both made on a last, the wood or plastic foot-shaped form that leather is stretched over and shaped to make a shoe. «You cut a pattern; you give it shape; you put on a sole,» says Natacha Marro, a maker of custom fetish boots in London. «Really, they are both the same.»
Marro learned shoemaking in London and started designing boots for films like Star Wars and pop stars like Christina Aguilera. Now she sells through the House of Harlot in North London, where an accessory is defined as a leather wristband with steel spikes.
This particular morning, Marro is wearing robin’s-egg-blue Mary Jane wedges with a split toe that looks like nothing so much as a pig’s trotter. «It’s animalistic,» she says. «I like animalistic.»
Shoes are theater. «Shoes turn you into someone else. You can’t be a dominatrix in a sneaker. If you are in a high heel, you are in pain, and you are going to make someone pay for it.» Then there is the drag queen who puts on a high platform heel, and he becomes she. «You know women who will kill for the right shoe? There are men, too! You put on heels, and suddenly you are six inches [15 centimeters] higher,» she says. «Who doesn’t want to be six inches taller? Even men—more men than you can imagine—want to. It’s a play. It’s a power thing. You can dress as a sailor, a Victorian, a Renaissance princess. When I go to carnival in Venice, I put on my brocade high heels, and I am in the 17th century.»
And the epitome of a sexy shoe is?
«You can’t go wrong with a nice fitted black leather boot with a four-inch heel.»
Or, maybe you can.
Bespoke Man’s Lace-up
Olga Berluti, from the Warrior collection, calfskin with scar decoration, 1995
It is said that the men who belong to Olga Berluti’s Swann Club polish their shoes with Venetian linen dipped in Dom Pérignon and expose them to the light of the full moon, but that is false. It is the quarter moon that is important, Berluti explains: «The moon gives transparency to leather. The sun burns; the moon burnishes.»
More about the Swann Club (named for the protagonist of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past) later. For now, know that Olga Berluti is the creative director of, and designs handmade, exorbitantly expensive men’s shoes for, the company that bears her family name.
Olga Berluti loves men’s feet—a passion, not a fetish, she says. The passion began with her convent schooling in Italy. A long corridor led to the chapel and a 14th-century statue of Christ. «I would approach the altar,» she remembers. «The nailed feet of Christ were exactly on the same level as my eyes. I stared and stared. I said to myself: When I am older, I will remove the nails. I will relieve the suffering of men’s feet.»
Berluti, small and slight with short black hair and eyes so dark they seem to be all pupil, does not seem tethered to the ground. She lives simply, does not eat meat and does not wear leather («My life is flesh and blood already»). She wears only natural fibers—always white. On her feet: white cotton sneakers in summer, white wool shoes in winter. She is an ascetic in a universe of extravagance. «I sublimate myself. I suffer. I have spent my life at men’s feet,» says Olga, Our Lady of Shoes.
She speaks in Celtic rune and Delphic pronouncement. «Man is a vagabond deluxe. We are moving through to the perfection of gesture,» she says. So what if the utterances make little sense. We are talking mystique and shoes with the chiaroscuro of a Caravaggio. We are talking shoes with the sleek, menacing profile of a mako shark, shoes decorated with piercings, tattoos, sometimes scars. They are shoes, she says, for the hidden warrior inside every man. Shoes, also, for the man with four to twelve thousand dollars to spend on a made-to-order dream.
Her atelier, in an 18th-century building in Paris’s Marais, is a stage set. A shoemaker’s bench with rows of apothecary bottles sits in the corner. Do the bottles contain essence of sorrow? Tincture of pain? No, merely fragrant oils and dyes. The lasts—she calls them ex-votos—of Berluti’s famous clientele rest on low tables. There are lasts that belonged to Pablo Picasso («We made his sandals»); Jean Cocteau («He liked to wear shoes without socks»); Andy Warhol («He asked for his right loafer to be patched—and be very visible»).
Once a year Olga Berluti invites clients to the Swann Club soiree, a black-tie affair, with champagne, not just to drink, but to clean shoes. «The alcohol makes them shine, but it must be chilled; it must be a very dry, a grand champagne.»
In Olga Berluti’s world, the relationship between man and shoe is complex. «Shoes adopt and tame you, and you adopt and tame them, like domesticating a wild animal,» she says. «You buy a pair of shoes you adore, but they are too edgy, too avant-garde. Perhaps your wife made you buy them. You put them away, and little by little this style, this color you’re not used to seeps in. You buy a jacket that goes with them, or a different color shirt. One day, you realize you have become the man your wife envisioned. The shoes revealed something new, something unexpected in you.»
But is not to take off one’s shoes to reveal something not so lovely, something, in fact, rather ugly—that is to say, one’s feet? The writer offers her own as an example.
Olga Berluti does not flinch. She reaches to cradle the feet. «No, no,» she says passionately. «There are no ugly feet. Feet are spiritual. They enable man to stand up. They free his hands. Now, he can look at the stars.»
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