Manolo: the Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards (NR)

Documentary 89 min. September 15, 2017
By Abbey Bender
Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards offers an affectionate (if not particularly probing) documentary portrait of a fashion icon. Manolo Blahnik, a top designer of high-end shoes since the early ’70s, relays his life story, guiding the viewer through the idyllic environs of his childhood in the Canary Islands, the free-spirited fashion world of ’60s and ’70s London, the glamour of the ’80s and ’90s supermodel era and more (including, of course, Sex and the City, which made Blahnik a household name). Blahnik is a charming screen presence, with none of the snobbery you might expect from a designer of his stature. He still hand-sketches all his shoe designs and oversees the production of his fabulous footwear. Blahnik's shoes are playfully sensual pieces of couture, and when the designer recounts his delight in seeing an unknown older woman wearing one of his designs, it's hard not to wonder about the fashion industry's long-standing conflict between craft and accessibility.

The shoes may be beautiful, but most of us will never get to wear them, given their prices: The glimpse into Blahnik's studio reveals the hyper-detailed craftsmanship that goes into a $700 pair of pumps. The film glosses over any conflict — a somber moment in which Blahnik remembers his departed muses Anna Piaggi, Isabella Blow and Tina Chow feels perfunctory, a brief, piano-scored reflection in between fun fashion images. The doc leans on re-enactments from Blahnik's life, featuring pretty but unnecessary and ultimately cheesy tableaus. More effective are the Matisse collage–like animated sequences bookending the film. Manolo might be a hard sell to moviegoers who aren't already interested, but for fashion enthusiasts, it's an enjoyable confection.
Michael Roberts River Hawkins, Rick Kissack, Manolo Blahnik, Gala Gordon, Isabeli Fontana Music Box Films

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