Shoe royalty Manolo Blahnik lands in Toronto with new exhibition

A new exhibition opening Wednesday at the Bata Shoe Museum showcases 50 years of work from one of the world's most famous women's shoe designers.

On the eve of new show, Blahnik reflects on female empowerment and designing footwear for Princess Diana

A new exhibition opening Wednesday at the Bata Shoe Museum showcases 50 years of work from one of the world's most famous women's shoe designers.

Manolo Blahnik, known for his delicate, artistic pumps and towering stiletto heels, will showcase designs from his personal collection at Bata, the only shoe museum in North America, for the next nine months.

Shoes on display at the Bata Shoe Museum stretch back through 50 years of the famed designer's career. (David Donnelly/CBC)

On Tuesday evening, in town for the exhibition's opening, Blahnik made his case for why women should continue to embrace the high heel in an age of both growing female empowerment and a shift toward more comfortable footwear.

"I've always been giving women empowerment. Shoes make them powerful," he told CBC Toronto.

The colourful, 60's-inspired Tendona shoe - proof positive that Blahnik designs don't shy away from colour and graphic design elements. (David Donnelly/CBC)

But what of the pain caused by taking on a few city blocks in a pair of towering heels?

"If you buy horrible shoes, this is torture. If you buy something well-done and beautiful, it's not torture," Blahnik said.

70s gamechanger

The Spanish designer became a household name thanks to Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw, who famously fawned over Blahnik's creations.

The designers career began, however, long before the HBO show, when he bucked the trend of chunky platforms in the 1970s and released a collection of sleek, delicate heels.

The Fano shoe from 2008, designed in the years after Sex and the City propelled Blahnik to international stardom. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Moving into the 80s, one of his most famous clients was style icon Princess Diana. 

He described her as "humble and incredibly good" as well as fond of elegant shoes that were "very simple."

Love of history and art inform design

Elizabeth Semmelhack, a senior curator at the museum, says it's the sheer span of Blahnik's career, as well as the myriad influences he draws from art and history, that make the show worth seeing.

Though his designs are often described as "classic," Semmelhack says that it's the way references are blended together that create "shoes that for many people do rise to the level of art."

An assortment of pastel Rococo-inspired shoes designed for the 2006 biopic of Marie Antoinette. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The exhibition is laid out in sections, including one dedicated to shoe construction and another specifically for the ice cream pastel-creations he produced for Sofia Coppola's 2006 film Marie Antoinette.

Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes opens Tuesday and runs until January 6, 2019.