Shoe label Manolo Blahnik attempted to import 274 pairs of shoes from Italy into the U.S. in September 2013, only to be seized by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service inspectors at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. More than two years later, the shoes remain in custody.
The reason? According to U.S. District Court documents filed Tuesday, the "civil forfeiture action" took place because the Manolo Blahnik shoes are made from an endangered species, specifically the skins of the Cerberus rynchops, also known as the "dog-faced water snake," which is protected under the Indian Wildlife Act (1972).
Custom forms that came with the Manolo Blahnik items, valued at $43,292, stated that the skins were collected as wild in China, the alleged country of origin. Although the import package included Italian CITES re-export permits, the court documents state that the dog-faced water snake "is not known to have a wild population in China." According to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the dog-faced water snake comes from South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Historically, the snakes were traded and used for their skins in the Philippines, although not anymore for obvious reasons. (FYI: CITES permit regulations are enforced by the U.S. under the CITES treaty, which protects species that are, or may become, threatened with extinction by international trade.)
After multiple attempts by the luxury brand, which provided a Chinese CITES export permit and re-export certificates (they were "deficient") as well as a statement from its foreign supplier exporter in Italy (it was "erroneous"), the 274 pairs, or 548 individual shoes, remain at the JFK Airport. Now, Robert L. Capers, U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of New York (that's Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island), has filed to have the shoes officially "forfeited and condemned" and to be reimbursed for all costs and disbursements from the proceedings.
A Manolo Blahnik spokesperson declined to comment.