Manolo Blahnik opened his first London store in Chelsea in 1973, and his second in the Burlington Arcade last month. Absolutely meets the seminal designer to talk decades of shoes
Interview Pendle Harte
ABSOLUTELY: Your design process is known for its precision. Where do you start when imagining a new shoe?
MANOLO BLAHNIK: Usually the idea comes from something that has been in my mind for a long time, sometimes I go to an exhibition or visit a new city and see something that I like and translate it immediately into a shoe. I don’t follow a design process, if something comes to my mind I put it down on paper. Sometimes it could even be a material that inspires an entire collection… there is always a surprise.
You started in set design but moved to shoes. What was the appeal of shoes?
MB: Design in general has always been my passion. Fashion, art, architecture. I started as a set and costume designer, fascinated by the fact that I could make up a character and by how important costumes are in creating personality. I had the opportunity to meet the extraordinary Diana Vreeland, who recommended me to focus on shoes.I have followed her advice ever since.
How did you learn your craft?
MB: With very hard work. I am a very curious person and like to be constantly learning in life. My main goal is to achieve perfection, which is impossible.
Your big break came when you designed shoes for Ossie Clark. Tell us about that. What was he like? What were the shoes like?
MB: When Ossie approached me I couldn’t believe it. It was my very first big opportunity and as you can imagine I was very nervous. For the occasion I designed an ankle strap round-toed shoe with a block heel and called the design ‘Ossie’. However it could have been my last job.
I didn’t use steel to support the heel, so when the models where walking down the catwalk they were swinging and not very stable. I was completely shocked but as it turned out, everybody loved it. What a relief that was.
What’s the enduring appeal of the high heel?
MB: It’s sensuous, it’s elegant and makes your body move differently. A high heel is timeless and works always.
Do you have a huge shoe archive?
MB: I do indeed. I have kept all the shoes I designed over the years, they are everywhere – it is like living in a shoe jungle. For the last two years they
have been collected in climate controlled storage.
Your first shop remains in Chelsea, and you have just opened a new one in Burlington Arcade. Why another London shop?
MB: My shop in Chelsea will always remain very special to me. I also want to design some exclusive styles that will only be available there. It is where it all began. I have been looking for many years to open another shop in central London, however I hadn’t found the right space until now. I am very passionate and not business driven at all so I didn’t mind waiting and I didn’t have any deadline, until this incredible opportunity was offered to me. Burlington Arcade has always been a reference to me. I remember going there the very first time I came to London – it was so captivating. And now almost 40 years later, I can’t believe I am having my own shop there. Burlington Arcade represents the England I love and want to be part of.
What are you currently working on?
MB: We are working on a documentary which will come our later this year. My friend, the director Michael Roberts, approached me some time ago with this idea and I said: why not? I feel very lucky to have some incredible people involved in the documentary and I am very much looking forward to see the result.
What’s your most popular shoe?
MB: I have many but I feel particularly attached to the ‘Ivy’ shoe from my beginning. I think it is the silhouette and design that is recognizable. The attention to balance and cut and the carefully selected materials is my special touch.