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Sole style

Anandhi Gopinath
Anandhi Gopinath • 3 min read
Sole style
Spanish shoe label Manolo Blahnik’s latest boutique opened in  Kuala Lumpur last month, in a stunning space designed by British architect Nick Leith-Smith.
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Spanish shoe label Manolo Blahnik’s latest boutique opened in Kuala Lumpur last month, in a stunning space designed by British architect Nick Leith-Smith.

Storied Spanish shoe couturier Manolo Blahnik opened his latest boutique in Malaysia last month. The new 100 sq m store, like all other Manolo Blahnik outlets, is designed by British architect Nick Leith-Smith.

Leith-Smith has strong connections to the worlds of fashion and design, and his bold, expressionist qualities are married to a sound understanding of historic and contemporary design, new technology and the extensive use of contemporary craftsmanship, modern materials and strong forms. His relationship with Blahnik has yielded especially stunning spaces that combine his clear design language with the shoe designer’s unique flair.

Every Manolo Blahnik store Leith-Smith designs is markedly different so as to ensure a one-of-a-kind experience for shoppers each time they pay a visit to one of the boutiques. Leith-Smith says this is not an easy task. “As designers, we are presented with a new set of challenges in each project we take on. We always strive to find creative ways to address them, be it through experimentation with materials, craft or exploring the possibilities of manufacturing technologies.”

For instance, for a store in the Middle East, techniques used in traditional boatbuilding were translated into a bespoke tessellated pattern screen, while in Dublin, Leith-Smith and his team used different materials and manufacturing techniques to interpret the pattern of a wallpaper. “We cast a special relief on the concrete walls, used water-jet cutting to cut the shapes in the steel tables, etched the surface of glass screens and stitched fabric panels,” he recalls.

For the new boutique in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Leith-Smith used a forest of bamboo — a traditional material used in furniture-making and scaffolding — as the central motif. “Our inspiration came from the breathtaking natural beauty of Malaysia,” he says. “We were drawn to bamboo — its enduring beauty as an evergreen and as a locally sourced material widely used in furniture and traditional architecture. An elegant bamboo structure is arranged vertically in a sinuous path around the shop, emulating an abstract forest.

“We then carefully incorporated other natural elements in the design and materials. A herringbone patterned marble floor is inlaid with brass detailing, drawing inspiration from palm leaves, and this is mirrored in the brass canopy-like lighting above. Natural woven fabric in rich tropical colours is used for round ottomans and stools and accentuates the contrasting metallic and stone finishes.”

The shoe collections are displayed on circular stone-topped brass tables. The architect has provided two private spaces for discreet selection that feature beautiful fabric-lined walls. Elevating the ubiquitous bamboo with artful and imaginative design through the use of natural geometry adds to the allure of Blahnik’s creations.

As always, the storied couturier’s style, humour and playfulness resonate to create a space that reflects the artistry of his shoes — and this remains a major element that informs Leith-Smith’s design blueprint for the store. “I’m always inspired by the brand’s ma verick and humorous spirit while maintaining its craftsmanship and elegance. These values come through in every project, yet for each regional shop, we create something that is unique to that area, be it influences, culture or materials.”

Anandhi Gopinath is an assistant editor at the Options desk of The Edge Mal aysia.

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 759 (Dec 19) of The Edge Singapore.

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