Manolo Blahnik: a life in magazines

August 10, 2022
Advert from a 1985 edition of Metropolitan magazine

Women’s shoes have been everywhere for decades, but before the red soles of Christian Louboutin or a pair of handmade Jimmy Choos ever walked down a street, there was Manolo Blahnik, inventor of the kitten heel and the master of the stiletto shoe.

Blahnik studied literature and architecture and then set design for the stage before specialising in shoe design on the advice of Diana Vreeland, then editor of the US edition of Vogue. At the time he was living in London and writing for L’Uomo Vogue, the Italian version of Vogue for men.

That was 1969, and Blahnik was soon designing footwear for the likes of Ossie Clark, Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes.

He knew the importance of keeping close to Vogue, and, in January 1974, was on the cover of the British edition with Anjelica Huston drinking champagne on a beach. The portrait was by David Bailey.

The advert at the top of this post is from a 1985 edition of Metropolitan. This free magazine was produced by contract publisher Redwood and put through the front doors of people living ‘north of the park’ – a slice of London from Hyde Park and Mayfair to Hampstead and Highgate.

He also did illustrations for the launch issue of Zembla in September 2003.

Six years later, he was described as a ‘shoe tsar and silver-haired dandy’, by Vanessa Friedman in a Lunch with the FT (July 4). The interview discussed his history as a shoemaker:

His favourites have been a pair that he made in 1973 for Ossie Clark, which featured cherry blossoms and green suede leaves that twined up the leg; ones with gigantic buttons (‘from my button period in the 1980s’); shoes made from coral and pony skin that appeared in an exhibit at the Design Museum in London in 2003; and shoes from this season’s [2009] collection called Toubid, high-heeled ankle-strap sandals featuring tiers of cut work around the arch of the foot.

However, the ones his customers liked best tended to be court shoes. The master of the stiletto regarded these as ‘very conventional’, especially when they were in ‘stupid colours like dusty pink’.

In 2013, he turned to titanium for his latest ‘killer heel’ – ‘It’s like a weapon’ Blahnik said.

The great search for beauty

July 29, 2022
The proportions of beauty discussed in a Rambler issue from 1898

Look through magazines in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods and you’ll soon notice their obsession with the idea of female beauty.

Artists vied to portray beautiful women, producing the likes of the ‘Barribal girl‘ and the ‘Gibson girl‘; magazines argued over the proportions of the ideal woman; fashion designers manipulated the body’s shape; and soon photographers got in on the act.

Consuming Female Beauty by Michelle Smith

Coming across the Rambler page above got me thinking about the imagery – and then I discovered there’s a new book about that very topic!

Consuming Female Beauty is described as investigating British Literature and periodicals, from 1840 to the First World War. The author, Michelle Smith, is an Australian academic, and the £85 book is from Edinburgh University Press.

The book is based on nineteenth- and early-twentieth century print materials, including women’s magazines, beauty manuals, advertising and fiction. Smith analyses how consumer culture and the emergence of the celebrity transformed and reshaped ideals about female beauty and femininity. It aims to provide a historical context for understanding the origin of modern ideas about female appearance relating to cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, skin lightening, and body shape.

The Rambler argues:

The most famous artist’s model at the present moment is Miss Clara Betz, who is declared by leading sculptors and painters to be the most perfectly formed model to be obtained. She may be accepted as the ideal of physical beauty in the eyes of artists. But she is yet far from perfect. Her measurements are: height, 5ft 4in; bust, 36in; waist, 26in; hips, 37in; thigh, 25in; calf, 14½in; ankle, 8in; hands, 4 ½in; foot, 6 ½in.

This form has been pronounced perfect by many artists, in spite of the fact that it departs widely from the standard of classical beauty. For instance, her foot is only 6 ½in. in length, whereas it should be 9in., or 1½ heads in length.

Miss Betz has appeared in the varied roles of Aurora, Vanity, Hebe, Terpsichore, A Wood Nymph, Bacchante, Circe, Meditation, Lurline, Psyche, Narcissus, Aphrodite Odalisque, Evening, White Captive, Proserpina, Venus, Juno, Flora, Diana, Surprised, “The Share of the Captain,” and the Venus de Medici.

A well-known artist passed this encomium on her: “She is probably one of the best models of the present time. At a glance she presents a symmetry which few models possess. Her proportions, taken separately, are clear cut and shapely, with a peculiar effect of lithe grace when taken as a whole, which is just what artists seek.”

Anon (1898) ‘The standard of womanly beauty’, The Rambler, 26 November, p47

Betz had caused a furore that year by appearing naked in a production of Yankee Doodle Dandy in New York.

The bust-waist-hips measurements for Betz were: 36; 26; 37 inches. By the 1950s, the supermodel of the era was Barbara Goalen. She was renowned for her wasp waist and aloof looks. Her measurements were 33; 18; 31. That’s quite a difference, though the demands of the fashion industry and the stage were probably different from those of artists. Betz weighed 135lb; Goalen under 8 stones (112lb).

The images below might add to the debate.

Edward Barribal New Year cover for London magazine of January 1918

Readers of Snap-Shots in 1901 were asked to rank drawings by Charles Dana Gibson

The Million carried a weekly photo gallery of beauty in 1894

Nash’s Pall Mall magazine worked hard on the presentation of its images, in this case of the glamorous British actress Julie Suedo by Madame Yevonde in a 1926 issue

>>More on women’s glossy magazines

Cool cover for July 27

July 27, 2022
Howard K Elcock was the artist for this 1929 Looker-On magazine cover

‘Bolt on the Blue’ was the title of this Looker-On magazine cover for 27 July (1929) by Howard K Elcock.

>>General weekly magazines at

Kate Moss in magazines

July 23, 2022
Kate Moss in The Face, April 1990

Kate Moss made her debut as a model on a page of The Face, a youth style magazine, in April 1990. She was credited as a Storm agency model. The photograph was by Corinne Day and the pair would go on to forge a formidable partnership, taking them on to the covers of magazines such as Vogue across the world.

See more Kate Moss covers

In search of a killer gurn

April 19, 2022
Jodie Comer has a crack at gurning for the Sunday Times Culture supplement (17 April 2022)

The Liverpudlian Jodie Comer is the latest to have a crack at gurning, or growling, for a magazine cover, in this case the Sunday Times Culture supplement (17 April 2022). The photographer is Callum Toy for Camera Press. Is the Killing Eve actress a killer gurner? Here are some other examples.

An early i-D spread from 1980
Just Seventeen from 1 January 1986
A boxing theme again. This time for The Face from June 1987

What’s this, a 1941 bikini?

April 15, 2022
Page from a Lilliput photo feature in 1941

It was in July 1946, the likes of Wikipedia say, that a French engineer and designer named Louis Réard introduced the modern two-piece bikini to the world.

But this photograph from Lilliput magazine seems to cast doubt on that claim – it was published in the March 1941 issue. That’s five years before Réard did his thing.

Close-up of that early bikini

The bikini took a while to become mainstream on the beach, particularly in the US. There, a cover close-up of a bikini bottom for a Playboy cover was still regarded as controversial in 1962. That issue discussed how bikinis were finally reaching US shores from Europe.

So, perhaps, the bikini was really just an innovation sparked by wartime rationing in Britain.

>>A brief history of Lilliput magazine

BP logo had 1930s Dunlop forebear

March 29, 2022
Dunlop’s 1933 logo in Country Life (left) and BP’s Helios branding today

BP introduced its green-hued sunshine logo – called Helios, after the Greek god of the sun – in 2000. It was designed as a ‘dramatic break with tradition’. The colours aimed to suggest heat, light and nature, with the interlocking shapes indicating ‘a single entity created by many different parts working as one’.

The company describes it as a logo ‘unlike any other energy identity‘.

BP may see it as unique but I was struck by its similarity to the Dunlop advertising artwork on the back cover of an issue of Country Life magazine in 1933.

The sun was a prominent visual device in the 1930s – you can see it on the garden gates and leaded windows of many an English suburban house built in that decade to this day. The sun was also used to dramatic effect in artwork for Watford’s Sun printing company by the designer and illustrator MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill (brother of Eric).

Charles F. Higham advertising agency credit on Dunlop advert

Dunlop had yet to adopt its logo with a ‘D’ encompassed by an arrow – that came about in 1959. The ‘Flying D’ is credited to the Charles F. Higham advertising agency in London. That provides another link back to the Country Life advert – a credit in the bottom left corner is to ‘C.F.H.’, the initials of that same agency.

George Ashton and cricket’s Ashes

January 18, 2022

Spoof advert from Sporting Times in 1992

It’s sometimes amazing how a joke or idea can catch on. In this era of the Worldwide Web and social media, such phenomena are called memes, but the word was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, well before the web. And the image above is a sporting meme from a magazine that dates back to 1882!

This is a spoof advert written by Reginald Shirley Walkinshaw Brooks, a journalist on the Sporting Times, a popular weekly. The ‘obituary’ for English cricket was prompted by the home team losing a Test series to the Australians for the first time at Lord’s cricket ground. The advert gave rise to the legend of The Ashes with its postscript:

N.B. – The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.

The England team set out for Australia in the winter of 1882 and Fleet Street portrayed the tour as a quest to regain the ashes. At this stage, there were were no actual ashes, but the idea tickled the fancy of a group of Melbourne women who presented a small urn to Ivo Bligh, England’s captain, after a social match at the Rupertswood Estate outside Melbourne on the Christmas Eve. Among the women was Florence Morphy, who went on to marry Bligh [Lord Darnley].

The urn is supposed to hold the ashes of a cricket bail. After Bligh died in 1927, Florence presented a terracotta urn to the MCC and it is on display at Lord’s to this day. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, the urn contains ‘just 150 milligrams of powdered bail ash‘.

Pasted on the side of the urn is one of six verses of a song lyric from Melbourne Punch magazine on 1 February 1883. The song, ‘Who’s on the cricket field’, was set to the tune of ‘Wha’s at the Window?’. It mentions Bligh and other star players from the England team:

When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.

Because of its age and fragile condition, the actual Ashes urn is not passed to the winning team, but a Waterford Crystal trophy and replica urns instead.

As for the Sporting Times, it lasted from 1865 until 1932. It was known as the Pink ‘Un because it was printed on pink paper, like the Financial Times today. In reference to this it ran Christmas specials called the Pink ‘Un. Its great rival was The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, which was founded in 1874, becoming Sport and Country in 1945 and Farm and Country in 1957. It closed in 1970. Holly Leaves was the name of its annual Christmas special.

And what about Reginald Brooks? Surely he went on to great things? Sadly not. Brooks died at the age of just 33 in 1888. He was the son of Punch editor Shirley Brooks, and wrote for that title too. He used the pseudonym Peter Blobbs in Sporting Times.

>>General weekly magazines in Britain

The Face of 1984 – Nick Kamen

January 5, 2022
The model Nick Kamen of the cover of The Face in January 1984. The photo was by Jamie Morgan

London magazine’s New Year Cheeroh!

January 4, 2022
The London magazine of January 1918

Edward Barribal was renowned for painting beautiful women. For this London magazine cover he has one taking us into the New Year of 1918 with a Cheeroh! lantern.

>> The London magazine history