FOR THE LOVE OF SHOES. Manolo Blahnik opened his first store in London on Old Church Street in Chelsea over 40 years ago. The renowned shoe designer has expanded to London’s picturesque Burlington Arcade in order to sell both women’s and men’s shoes.
You started thinking about shoes as a child, playing with lizards in the Canary Islands?
It is true, as a child I used to make shoes for lizards out of Cadbury’s chocolate wrappers. It wasn’t till years later when I met Diana Vreeland of Vogue that I returned to shoes.
Is Spanish still your language?
Now my Spanish is rusty. I guess English is my language now, as I have no parents and hardly any friends left. I speak English with my niece Kristina who runs the business operation.
“I do love shoes.”
Manolo Blahnik’s new shoe shops in London’s historic Burlington Arcade.
How long have you been in business?
I started in 1971 in New York because Diana Vreeland sent me to Henri Bendel’s after she saw my drawings. To be honest I wanted to do theatre design, but alas Ms. Vreeland said that I should do shoes. I started in London with two thousand pounds, and my first shop was in Chelsea in Old Church Street.
Was it a success?
Yes. I was invited by the designer Ossie Clark to do the shoes for his show. I did shoes with high heels. I went to Michael Turner, a manufacturer, and I said to him, “Can you help me to make shoes?”
What is the secret of your success?
I tried, tried, tried.
Is one of your shoes iconic?
It is the one called Hangisi. They are classical shoes.
Do you like using colours?
Yes, I like colours very much, changing colours, mixing colours. It’s not very practical sometimes. I like tiny heels at the moment. In the 60s Peggy Moffitt, a great friend of photographer William Claxton, liked a shoe like that. Arabs and people of the Middle East especially like high heels. What they want now is shoes with a buckle.
Do you have a favourite colour?
I love baby blue.
“To be elegant everything is about the way you move, the body, the neck, the hands.”
Where do you sell the most?
In America, in LA and in New York, then in Hong Kong, and in Europe.
How many shoes do you produce in a year?
600 a season, four shows a season.
How many shops do you have?
309 points of sale, 16 shops, and we just opened the last one in Geneva.
Now you have been successful for a long time?
In two years’ time it is my 50th anniversary. I don’t follow fashion at all. I don’t like fashion. If I do see fashion I do the contrary. It is a miracle that I am still in business (he laughs).
Where do you work?
I draw at home. Next to my bed I have colours and pencils, and I draw with a Faber Castell pencil 3B.
Do you work with some fashion people?
Yes, with Grace Wales Bonner, an English designer. I love to work with young people because they are excited.
Who were your favourite designers?
First of all Yves St Laurent, who always was very nice to me, and Pierre Bergé too. Another one is Azzedine Alaïa, and another is Christian Lacroix.
Are your shoes for any specific age?
My shoes are for every age. The kids love Tweed shoes, because Tweed is always in fashion. I like the Tweed suits that I have had made at Anderson & Sheppard for forty years, and I hope to wear them until I can afford a new one.
Do you make your own shoes?
Yes, I wear Oxford and Derbys, and sandals in the summer. Colourful shoes, yellow, blue, pink; and in Russia I wore red shoes, with red socks and a red suit and a red shirt.
You are opening your first men’s shop in London’s Burlington Arcade. What kind of shoes do you sell?
One style is done in raffia in Morocco, the only place they make it. They have classic shoes and sandals. Men and women’s shoes don’t like to be together. Men need a shop by themselves and to have their own space.
Royal blue Hangisi pumps
Blue Suede Witney
Zebra Pony Henley
Red Suede Witney
Brown and White Leather Manolo
“I still have my energy.”
Do you have a particular love for London?
Yes, I still love London, but I worry about what is going to happen with Brexit.
What is going to happen?
We don’t know but I love my house in Bath. I don’t want to leave England. I am a permanent resident, but I am Spanish. Of course I could have an English passport, but for what? I am old, but I don’t feel old at all.
Who are the other shoemakers you admire?
I love Pietro Yantorny, an Italian shoemaker. My greatest love of all is André Perugia, and then Salvatore Ferragamo. Italians are by far the best. Also there are young people like Nicolò Beretta at Giannico who is very good, and also the Frenchman Pierre Hardy who does shoes for Hermès.
And for men?
Classics, made for centuries in England. I also like hats. I buy them at Lock’s in St. James’s, the best in the world.
Are your shoes very expensive?
I don’t know. I don’t even know my phone number, and I don’t know who buys my shoes. Of course I made shoes for David Hockney, Brian Ferry, Peter Schlesinger, Christopher Gibbs and so on so forth.
How much does a pair of your shoes cost?
500 pounds more or less, unless they are crocodile or lizard. People are judged by shoes. Isabella Blow, two days after she bought the shoes, she broke them. I love used shoes. Women like pumps the most, to have a court shoe.
What is an elegant woman for you?
It’s not to do with dressing up. Everything is about the way you move, the body, the neck, the hands.
Are you a designer ultimately?
Yes, I also design books. I was asked by Penguin to do Balzac and Flaubert. I designed the cover of Madame Bovary by Flaubert for Penguin, and therefore all my collection was about Madame Bovary. Another year all of my collection was about Lampedusa.
They say you like movies?
Yes, I like movies and especially Hollywood movies and Italian movies of the 60s. For instance ‘L’Avventura’ by Antonioni. I also like the film ‘I am Love’ by Luca Guadagnino that was filmed in the Villa Necchi in Milano; the protagonist is the beautiful Tilda Swinton but there is a fantastic Marisa Berenson. She’s one of the best European actresses.
Have you changed your life?
I still have my energy and I have my seven dogs.
Things have changed a lot in your business over the years?
Of course, now we have Nike and Adidas.
Do you have competition?
In men’s shoes maybe I will.
Where are you going for your holidays?
I don’t like holidays. I used to go to St. Tropez when I was young with some friends but now I don’t like them anymore. If I have time I go to the Canary Islands, but I don’t go very often. I quite like to go to Madrid where I have a small shop.
Do you still love what you do?
I do love shoes.
All images courtesy of Manolo Blahnik
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