The occasion was very special indeed. Paying tribute to his Czech origins, Manolo Blahnik chose to design a limited edition pair of his iconic Hangisi pumps from Czech hand-made bobbin lace and premium Preciosa crystal. Only 20 pairs will ever be made, and he oversaw every step of the production process himself, making the shoes a true collector’s item for any fashionista. They are due to be delivered to their lucky owners before Christmas.
“I hope their future owners feel just as special wearing them as I did while designing them,” adds Mr. Blahnik.
Featuring an elegant buckle adorned with Preciosa Chrysolite Opal crystals, the pumps are the prefect tribute to Crystal Valley, hometown of Preciosa. “Chrysolite Opal is rather delicate to make. It is difficult to get this kind of murky effect in that color, but of course we know the ropes. It is one of our traditional colors that fits perfectly with the tradition of Crystal Valley,” adds Tomáš Lamač, head of Innovation at Preciosa Components. His team mix together around 20 different ingredients to achieve the murky effect. “First we melt them together, before proceeding to further heat treatment. For the opal effect we have to reach a very specific temperature that differs for every size of stone,” Lamač adds. The process used to be much easier in the past but now legislation forbids the use of certain substances. “Ecology is very important to us, so we changed the composition of the products years ago.”
Working for Preciosa is a dream come true for Tomáš Lamač, who has been around glass his entire life. “Growing up in Jablonec nad Nisou, we had a cottage, and I used to dig near the river where I would find glass stones and pebbles that were naturally formed, but that also had the exact same chemical composition from which we polish our crystals today,” he says. Developing new products for a company with such an illustrious history can be challenging for him, however, fashion is always a great inspiration. “Fashion trends and the collective taste of society are constantly changing. Technology has also improved, which has over time given us better tools and methods for developing new products. That said, the glass industry has, generally speaking, remained the same for the past several centuries; it’s always been fashionable to embellish everything from hair pins to light fixtures, which is what we still do today,” he says.
Developing new products can be almost like alchemy at times. “Sometimes I feel like I’m managing a group of geniuses; they come to work every day ready to experiment with all kinds of things. We’re never 100% sure what will happen,” describes Lamač. Creating new colors in particular can be quite dangerous. “We begin by mixing all kinds of different ingredients, from very expensive ones, like neodymium, to very common ones, like all-purpose flour. Each size and product needs a different proportion of ingredients, so it’s really all about trial and error. Once you’ve found a combination that works, you take it to production and test it on a larger scale. When we were developing our Padparadscha color, we nearly created a highly explosive combination! Safety is our highest priority though, so we have to take our time. Aside from this, the possibilities for creating new colors are endless!”
And finally, there is the hand-made bobbin lace. Making these precious shoes out of lace was quite a task even for the best Czech lacemakers.“It was enormously challenging, as you might expect! Never in the 100-year history of our school have we made a pair of shoes entirely out of lace. It was very complicated,” explains Věra Holomečková, a 70-year-old lace-maker with almost mythical abilities, who has taught her craft for half a century. “I think it might be a gift I have. And I am genuinely happy that I have it,” she says humbly when asked about her incredible lacing skills. “Actually sometimes I don‘t even know how I do or did something. I just like making beautiful things,” she smiles.
For these particular shoes, Manolo Blahnik picked a lace type dating back to approximately 1900, from the unique collection of more than 2,000 types belonging to the school. “I had no idea how this delicate lace was made, so naturally, I figured it out. It took me 150 hours to finish a single pair! It was too much work, even for a brand like Manolo Blahnik,” continues Věra. She ended up having to create a brand new manual on an entirely unknown technique of lacing. “It took me only 70 hours, I was quite proud of myself!”
This period was very demanding indeed for her. “I was working up to 12 hours a day. And later I found out that I was almost blind while working. I had cataract,” Vera Holomeckova explains. “I was working on the shoes and one of the tiny veins in my eye collapsed, so I went to the doctor and she said that I was almost blind in one eye. Unbelievable! So in the summer I got some surgery and now my sight is impeccable again. Even if it wasn’t connected to Hangisi, I always tell this as a funny story.”
For the other nineteen pairs of the shoes, she acted as a supervisor. She had chosen only the very best Czech lacemakers for the job, knowing them all personally; most of them were her students or lifetime friends. They made the shoes of very strong Czech flax. One shoe alone uses 200 meters of yarn and includes some of the most delicate ornaments. “The leaves are considered to be very complicated. There are people who won‘t make a single nice leaf in their entire life. And now just imagine that there are 136 leaves on a single Hangisi pump,” adds Holomeckova.
Working with dedicated, talented and passionate individuals such as Vera is key for Manolo Blahnik. With her in particular, he found someone that really was able to fulfil his vision.
“This has been an exciting collaboration for us given Mr. Blahnik’s Czech roots,” said Carla Filmer, Global Communications Director for Manolo Blahnik. “Ours is a brand that seeks to be interesting and inspiring, qualities that we have found in abundance in Prague.”