Perhaps one of the century’s most prolific shoemakers, Manolo Blahnik is a man who needs no introduction. In fact, he can go simply by his first name, thanks much in part to Sex and the City making the term “Manolos” part of our everyday lexicon. In our interview with the shoe designer, Blahnik shares his thoughts on the pursuit of the new, his cultured upbringing, and a surprising dream client who lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
What brought you to the world of shoe design? How did you get your training?
I never went to design school or had any formal training. I was planning to be a theater set designer, but was derailed by a meeting with Diana Vreeland, who saw my drawings and advised me to concentrate on footwear. From then on, I went to many factories and spent countless months to learn how to make shoes. In 1973, I opened my shop in Chelsea and the rest is history. I have to say that Ms. Vreeland advised me wonderfully.
You have had a worldly and cultured upbringing and you travel constantly. Are there any destinations or cities that influence your designs?
I get inspiration from wherever I am. I love architecture and nature. I love being in gardens and looking at plants. I always have shoes that look like plants or feature flowers in my collections. I love Spain since it is my country and I can always find beautiful colors there, but when I visit the Middle East, I always admire the beautiful, elegant, and wonderfully groomed women.
Many fashion commentators define fashion as the “pursuit of the new”. Do you think there is anything truly new anymore, or is the best we can hope for clever reinvention?
Nowadays, it is not easy to come up with new, unique ideas since almost everything has been made in the past. I guess new designs are always referential to the past with a new twist – but I believe every time I do a collection, I try for something original.
What inspires your designs?
Anything and everything. I read a lot and watch at least two old movies per night, so I always get inspiration from there. I also get inspiration from people on the street, nature, even architecture. My imagination is very vivid and quick so as soon as I see something I like, an idea for a shoe comes into my head.
Many designers try for extravagant looks, meanwhile sacrificing comfort and wearability. Your shoes are famously comfortable, but they are sleek and beautiful as well. How do you go about ensuring that they are both practical and stylish?
As far as style goes, I never steer too far away from what I’ve always been doing, which is the very thin sole. I despise platforms and think that they’re very unflattering on women. They make women walk in an unflattering way. A single sole with a heel makes you walk more gracefully and looks elegant. As for the comfort, we invest a lot of time into ensuring that the balance of the heel is perfect and the fit is immaculate and comfortable.
What is one thing every woman must own in her wardrobe?
I would have to say my ‘BB’ pumps. They are pointy court shoes with a spindly heel. They are completely timeless and once you buy a pair, you can pull them out of your closet in five or ten years and they will still look flattering and modern. You can wear them with anything as well: dress, skirts, trousers, hot pants… the list goes on and on.
If you could design a custom shoe for any woman throughout history, who would you choose?
I would have to choose Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. I designed the shoes for Sofia Coppola’s film and it was a lot of fun, so I can only imagine what it would be like to do it in real life!
Most treasured possession(s)? My dog Romolo.
Greatest extravagance? Hundreds of old silent films on DVD.
Cheapest thrill? Recently, it was a bed throw from Zara Home in a beautiful gray color.
Perfect idea of happiness? Being alone with a marvelous book.
Dream client? Keira Knightley and my most favorite, Uma Thurman.
Fantasy dinner party guests? Amanda Harlech, Tennessee Williams, Luchino Visconti, and Cecil Beaton.
Favorite smell? The smell of the sea.
Favorite sound? Natacha Atlas singing.
Best film? Il Gattopardo by Luchino Visconti.
Best advice? Keep going and do what you believe in.