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Fashion: Give the man some Manolo's

Manolo Blahnik famously makes shoes for women to die for. Now, says Damian Foxe, he is making shoes for men to live for. on the latest from Manolo Blahnik and Lobb
Such is the wizardry of Manolo Blahnik's fantastical footwear, that if he had been plying his craft in the 16th century he would surely have been burnt at the stake. If stilettos are the work of the devil, then Blahnik's shoes are evil little miracles.

Women will gasp "must have" and "to die for" at the mere mention of his name. But ask most men, and they won't have the least idea who or what you're talking about.

All that is about to change. Blahnik, who became famous for his sexy women's shoes throughout the Eighties and Nineties, in fact opened his London shop in 1973 making shoes for men. Next February he will return to his brogue last with an entire menswear collection, incorporating 15 styles of shoes and sandals in a colour palette befitting Brighton's biggest rock candy shop. Prices of sandals start at pounds 200, and for shoes at pounds 275.

"So many men keep pestering me to make them shoes, and now seems like the right time to do it," says Blahnik. In fact, the designer has always kept his hand in the men's market, creating a small number of made-to- measure shoes for select customers, including his three male employees.

"I bought my first pair before I even started working here," explains Jamie Prieto, who works at Blahnik's London boutique, "and I have honestly never found anything better. We had one customer who came in and ordered nine pairs of the same shoe, all in the same colour." The reason? He had discovered what he considered to be the perfect pair of shoes.

However, Blahnik's collection may not be to every man's taste. Far from the flights of fancy which he so brilliantly creates for women, his styles for men all start from a classical base, with Oxfords, brogues, monk straps and even desert boots having a major influence. Neat, uncluttered, immaculately finished, every pair begs to appear in a Merchant Ivory adaptation, all olde worlde English understatement and Continental sophistication.

"Men care more about cut and comfort, and creating a sense of harmony," explains Blahnik. Above all, however, he claims that they want quality. "Men like shoes to be an old friend that will last for ages."

Eventually, Blahnik hopes that his male customers will become as adventurous as the women. "For next season we will incorporate even more unusual styles, perhaps using brocade for evening, and intro- ducing colours such as dusty pink and acid green for day."

In the meantime, however, Blahnik has opted for a carefully measured approach to the unpredictable men's market, manufacturing only one pair of each style in every size and half size. "Unlike women, who will try anything new," he claims, "you never know exactly what men are going to do."

Conscious of this predicament, John Lobb, which holds the royal warrant for bespoke shoes for men, has made an unprecedented move into the increasingly wealthy and always adventurous women's market. Like Blahnik, John Lobb has always produced a small number of shoes for the opposite sex, and has maintained an exclusive following who are prepared to pay highly for the privilege. This season sees Lobb's first-ever collection of women's ready-to-wear shoes , though at prices from pounds 230 per pair they are not ready for everyone to wear.

As with Blahnik's new men's collection, John Lobb has favoured a traditional approach to design, achieving femininity by narrowing and elongating the toe instead of raising the heel. Like the men's collection, they are made in Northampton.

Shoes this price have to be seen as an investment. For the princely sum of half a month's salary, you can secure yourself a hand-crafted, hand-stitched and hand-finished pair of perfectly executed shoes which will only get better with age.

Manolo Blahnik men's collection, available from February at 49-51 Old Church Street, SW3 (0171-352 3863)

John Lobb, 88 Jermyn Street, London W1 (0171 930 8089)

Damian Foxe is fashion writer for `Time Out'.