Exhibition pairs Manolo Blahnik shoes with the paintings that inspired them

Designer’s footwear goes on display alongside 18th-century works at Wallace Collection

Manolo Blahnik may be the world’s most famous shoe designer, his heels immortalised in the hit TV show Sex and the City after being given their own storyline. But a new exhibition is to present his creations in a way they haven’t been seen before.

An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection opens in London on Monday and will pair the most famous shoes from his archive with world-renowned paintings in the gallery’s 18th century rooms. Highlighting the aesthetic shared between the collection’s baroque masterpieces and Blahnik’s own decadent craftsmanship, the exhibition aims to create a dialogue between art and craft.

Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City.
Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City. Photograph: Charles Sykes/REX/Shutterstock

In one room, the shoes Blahnik designed for Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette are placed in front of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 1767 painting The Swing, while in another Frans Hals’s 1624 portrait of The Laughing Cavalier will be juxtaposed with a pair of ornate black boots. In total, 10 rooms will be adorned with more than 160 pairs of shoes, each exploring a theme in Blahnik’s work, which has been heavily inspired by art and the Wallace Collection in particular.

One of the pairings in the exhibition.
One of the pairings in the exhibition. Photograph: The Wallace Collection

“I have been coming here for over 49 years. I’ve always been mad for little bows, ribbons and satins,” says 76-year-old Blahnik of the shoes and clothes depicted in oil. His collaboration with the Wallace Collection marks the first time that the venue has allowed its permanent collection to be interrupted by another designer’s work. “To start with, I felt a little embarrassed to be around these types of beautiful things and then I thought: ‘Why not [do something] that brings a connection between a piece of silk and a piece of art?’ I think it is important to see where something came from.”

Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection
Blahnik has been coming to the the Wallace Collection for almost 50 years. Photograph: Cassandra Parsons/The Wallace Collection

The exhibition will culminate in the Great Gallery, which houses a selection of masterpieces – including works by Titian and Velázquez.

The director of the Wallace Collection, Dr Xavier Bray, who co-curated the exhibition, hopes that it will make the collection – which is free to visit – more widely known. “People don’t realise that the Wallace is here. It’s underappreciated. That’s why something like Manolo [is great].”

One of the displays in the Blahnik/Wallace Collection exhibition
‘To start with, I felt a little embarrassed to be around these types of beautiful things,’ says Blahnik. Photograph: Cassandra Parsons/The Wallace Collection

The exhibition comes shortly after the milliner Stephen Jones’ exhibition at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton this year, which saw his fashion creations adorn furniture in every room of the landmark and attracted droves of visitors to admire the splendour of King George IV’s famous pleasure palace.

Manolo Blahnik celebrates the 50th anniversary of his eponymous brand next year.
Blahnik celebrates the 50th anniversary of his eponymous brand next year. Photograph: The Wallace Collection

Blahnik, who celebrates the 50th anniversary of his eponymous brand next year, hopes his historical collaboration will entice “curious millennials” to the collection. “It’s a wonderful moment to do it.”

Manolo Blahník at the Wallace Collection
In total, 10 rooms will be adorned with more than 160 pairs of shoes. Photograph: Cassandra Parsons/The Wallace Collection

An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection, London, from 10 June until 1 September

Contributor

Scarlett Conlon

The GuardianTramp

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