Manolo Blahnik: shoe heaven in London and Paris

Wall of shoes in Manolo Blahnik’s new boutique in the Jardins du Palais Royal, Paris

Could it really have taken until 2019 for Manolo Blahnik to open a shop in Paris?  The first shop in Chelsea’s Church Street, opened in 1973 and was followed by a Madison Avenue store in New York in 1979.  But Parisiennes have had to wait until now for their own shop.  It was certainly worth waiting for.  The gem of a shop nestled in a corner of the secluded Jardins du Palais Royal occupies the historic site of the Cafe Corrazza, Jacobin HQ in pre- and post-revolutionary France.  The shop has been sensitively re-purposed, the original tiled floor the same one that Napoleon’s feet are said to have trod.

Now the revolutionaries have been replaced by walls of the most exquisite shoes, many in styles that would have delighted Marie Antoinette herself.  With shoes as delicate as confectionery, who needs cake?

Back in London’s Burlington Arcade, Mr Blahnik has taken possession of a former pen shop to open a man’s shop next to the ladies’ store.  A rainbow of suede brogues now sits on little fold-down shelves that once held a prism of coloured inks.  The till is housed in a pedestal and a steep winding staircase takes you up to discover two more floors of bliss.

Best of all: the mens’ range starts at size 5 (38) which makes them popular with many females who, like me, may adore high stilettos but appreciate even more the comfort of a lace-up.

So now Mr Blahnik bestrides the Channel – whether you are in London’s Burlington Arcade or Paris’s Jardins du Palais Royal you will never be far from shoe heaven.

Les Jardins du Palais Royal, Paris: home of the new Manolo Blahnik boutique

Best of all the Wallace Collection has just extended its Manolo Blahnik: An Enquiring Mind exhibition until 27 October, so there are many more opportunities ahead to view his beautiful creations.

The three-year cloche

Two summers ago, I spent my August bank holiday weekend making a leopard-print fedora, that I called the ‘three-day fedora’.  This summer I was similarly-employed but on a hat that’s been 3 years in the making.  Sometimes, these things just take longer because they do….

I bought the felt hood in August 2016 at Ultramod, Paris’s dream haberdashery.  I must have been possessed by late-summer colour frenzy because I immediately loved its fuzzy raspberry tone even though I had no idea what I would do with it.

A year later, I pulled it out again and started experimenting with shapes and trims, but now with a darker feel using antique jet fragments.  I could not make a decision so instead I made the leopard fedora.  The raspberry hood kept calling though and I got as far as stiffening the hood and preparing it for blocking before I again, got blocked and there it stayed for months.

Then, on the verge of giving it away, I changed my mind and started trying ribbon trims – teal, folkloric gold, blossom pink – before eventually coming back to black jet.  I had a recent market find: an antique fragment that had the perfect taper.

Once I got started, the hat chose the shape for itself.  While my leopard fedora fell naturally into its dimpled crown, this one stayed resolutely but softly, a cloche.  Sometimes the hat just tells you what to do with it if you let it.

The Most Beautiful Umbrellas in the World

It can take M Heurtault more than 300 hours to make one of his umbrellas or parasols, depending on the style and detailing, which could include antique lace, ostrich feathers, embroidery, jade or horn.

These umbrellas bear no resemblance to those that you might pick up in a convenience store during an unexpected shower. These are hand-crafted accessories, carefully calibrated to bathe the holder in a flattering glow and to sit beautifully balanced in the grip whether sheathed or open.

The silk twill is sourced from the same suppliers as the top fashion labels and treated to be fully waterproof and the whole umbrella is intended to be a life-long artefact not a disposable commodity. The mechanism is firm and sturdy in the hand: these umbrellas are built to stand wind and rain as well as to look stunning.

M Heurtault has been awarded France’s highest honour of artisanship: the Master of Arts, his workshop a Grand Atelier and you have probably seen his work in films and TV.

He sells his beautiful constructions at Galerie Fayet, a jewel of a shop in the picturesque Passage Jouffroy, only a few steps but a world away from the neon of the Boulevard Montmartre. Here in the shop, you enter a world in which a walking cane can hide an epee or a stiletto, or perhaps hold a minature picnic kit.

I found a wonderful umbrella here. It was a simple monochrome striped silk twill, sleek and light as a quill but with a steel frame strong as an exoskeleton. It was an accessory straight out of Cecil Beaton’s conjuring of Ascot races for My Fair Lady.

Now, equipped with my brolly and a rather natty Maison Michel black fedora, I’m ready for whatever weather the English autumn throws at me.