Since he began his career in the early ’70s, Manolo Blahnik has dominated the shoe world. And this season, with the demise of the heavy wedge and the return of the stiletto and mule, every woman worth her salt will be wearing his uniquely crafted designs.
Self-taught, Blahnik says he learned the art of shoemaking by trial and error; his interest piqued by watching his mother make espadrilles for fun (though her sartorial tastes tended toward couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga). In 1974, his urbanity won the handsome and perennially well-turned-out Blahnik a place as the first man on the cover of British Vogue, embracing Angelica Huston in a shot by David Bailey.
Bianca Jagger famously wore his shoes for her entrance into Studio 54, sitting astride a white charger; the Princess of Wales was a fan; and the “Sex and the City” character Carrie Bradshaw had such a predilection for his heels that “Manolos” became a household name. His awards are numerous, including two from the British Fashion Council and two from the Council of Fashion Designers America. In 2007, he was named an honorary Commander of the British Empire for services to the country’s fashion industry.
Blahnik has steadfastly refused to bow to trends and says that he often reworks old designs to make them “new again.” His clientele doesn’t care either way. Even in today’s perilous world, there are waiting lists for Blahnik’s shoes stateside.
I don’t think we have advanced since the ’60s. Everything was so new then. These days, we have so little creativity and freshness in fashion. There are too many collections and too much commercialism. Everybody is driven by money. Of course, we all need money, but to make that your only motivation for creating something is wrong.
I find the idea of the super rich quite disgusting. I recently turned down a lot of money to create a mass-market type product. I don’t want to make that sort of money if I am polluting my brand.
Everywhere people are hijacking names. The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress was copied within about 10 minutes. All of this copying and people begin to ask the question “What is real?” and an even bigger question then becomes “What is good design?”
I have never belonged to a fashion “moment.” “Sex and the City” and all of the movies and shows my shoes have appeared in are good publicity, yes, but I go my own way—I don’t design for a specific moment in time. Inspiration for me is a state of mind, not something I see or a specific idea.
The female silhouette is something I adore. That’s what I’m thinking about when I design my shoes. I love simplicity and beauty. For me, this is summed up by the pictures taken by [Irving] Penn, Helmut Newton, Corinne Day and early Bruce Weber. Today, the king of fashion photography is Steven Meisel.
The most tragic moment of my life was the first show I ever designed for. I had been asked to make shoes for Ossie Clark’s show in the early ’70s. I was so inexperienced that I didn’t put the steel in the heels of the shoes, which is required to support the shoe and the wearer. So the girls came out walking very strangely in these rubber, bendy high-heeled shoes I had made. I thought “Oh dear god! This is the end of me.” But after the show, even David Hockney and Cecil Beaton said to me “It was so interesting that the girls were moving in such a different way.”
The key to making a high shoe comfortable is symmetry and balance. Everyone in my factories tries on the shoes until we have it just right. I have learned over the years that there are many little tricks, like making sure the ball of the foot is comfortable first.
Nowadays I’m in favor of something very discreet. I’m tired of the whole toe-cleavage thing. One should not even see the beginning of the toes these days; all one should note is a tiny pressure where the shoe ends and the skin begins, or the hint of a crease.
Manolo BlahnikA sketch of Blahnik’s shoe for Ossie Clarke’s show in the ’70s.
You have either got style or you haven’t. Maybe you can acquire a bit of polish, but really style is about the way you move, the way you wear your clothes. It shouldn’t matter where the dress is from—if you are stylish, you can wear everything from trashy to wonderful. Romy Schneider epitomizes style for me.
The idea of up-to-the minute fashion is a sin. Why? Because it manipulates women by making them feel they have to constantly spend money on different things to remain fashionable. This is ridiculous. I’d prefer to see women in twin sets and tweed. I have a very ’50s kind of mentality when it comes to fashion.
Mrs. Vreeland terrified me. She had such presence—almost a halo. She had an extraordinary eye and a phenomenal energy. I knew I would never meet anyone like her again. I can still hear her speaking to me. “Oh Miinolooo,” she would say.
My mother always said “Do whatever you want to do.” It is thanks to her and to my father than I am what I am. She was a woman with opinions about everything. I am the same. She was very quick and decisive. I think about her every day.
England is the most exotic place in the world. Obviously, I’m not talking about plants and the climate, but I am talking about the minds of the people. It’s the only place you can still find real eccentrics. Mr. Beaton got me to England. It was the world of his photographs that fascinated me so much. One of my proudest moments was when Mr. Beaton did the photographs for my first campaign.
The older I get, the more difficult I am to work with. I want everything to be perfect. One day, someone in one of my factories will try to murder me because I am never satisfied. I have four factories and I practically live in them. What I do still excites me. I have never sold out, nor will I, because I can’t do anything I don’t believe in.