Manolo Blahnik is coy about how his Carolyne pump – a sleek slingback featuring an almond toe and a mid stiletto heel – became what he calls an “eternal shoe”. “It’s a comfortable shoe, a shoe that has no time – no matter what you do, it will always look modern,” he tells British Vogue during the Carolyne’s 35th anniversary year. It is a sentiment that royal family members, First Ladies and Manolo fans alike agree with wholeheartedly. Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, the Duchess of Sussex, Ashley Olsen, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Selena Gomez have all worn the ladylike shoes, but Blahnik says he never intended the Carolyne to become a house signature.
“I don’t have feelings about these things, I don’t have a clue – I don’t plan things like that,” says the much-loved shoemaker, who concerns himself with the art of women’s footwear rather than his legacy. “I design shoes and some are more popular than others. With the Carolyne, there is every possible material, every possible colour, every possible heel height – and it always sells.”
Inspired by designer, author and artist Carolyne Roehm and fashion icon Carolina Herrera three and a half decades ago, Blahnik distilled the modernity and impeccable taste of both women into a sophisticated shoe that speaks volumes about the lifestyle of its wearer. “Carolyne Roehm is a very elegant woman and an exquisite customer, who intrigued me into designing a shoe that would remain timeless, like her,” Blahnik says of his career woman muse.
Manolo – who started out as a set designer before switching solely to shoes upon the encouragement of Diana Vreeland in 1970 – is unperturbed by the fact the slingback has not always been in favour and, indeed, might even seem incongruous with the sculptural heels currently being made by the next wave of shoemakers. “It was very popular in the 1930s; I adored how effortless it was, so I designed it first in a caramel croc material and then it went from there.”
Nowadays, the leg-elongating Carolyne – which retails from £550 – is available in all manner of classic calfskin leathers and bridal hues, but receives seasonal updates to delight customers. Think: ornate floral appliqué, sheer polka dot overlays and sweet beaded motifs across the toe. The back strap, however, is always left plain with an elastic inset to ensure maximum comfort for its on-the-go wearers, who also have a choice of three heel heights – 50mm, 70mm and 105mm – to select from.
What does it take to make an “eternal shoe”? The ingredients can’t be boiled down to a simple recipe for success says the shoe maestro, who just always seems to have the magic touch. “A classic is a shoe that women wear all the time, that has no time. I have lots of classics, and one of them is the elegant Carolyne.” She might have turned 35, but who’s counting birthdays when you’re this quietly fabulous?
From British Vogue