manolo blahnik

60 Delightful Minutes with Manolo Blahnik

The iconic shoemaker on the final stop of his exhibit, ordering room service, and chasing perfection.

By: Noah Lehava
Photography: Renée Rodenkirchen

It can be difficult to capture in written words the presence of someone like Manolo Blahnik. Elegant is the first that comes to mind, shortly followed by eccentric, delightfully inquisitive, masterful, legendary, an artist in the truest sense. And as The New York Times so eloquently puts it “He wears the hell out of a lilac suit.” But yet, it still doesn’t feel like enough! You see, Mr. Blahnik can’t be confined to paper—or in this case a screen—although, ironically enough, it’s something he often uses as the vessel for his dreamt up designs, and I had the pleasure of witnessing his pencil flow into a shape of a ballerina-esque flat on a folded up piece of paper (check out our Instagram to see it, too.) He’s arguably the most celebrated shoemaker of the last 45 years and has the personality to match.

In the 60 minutes we spent together amongst 200 of his most defining pairs (yes, those denim Rihanna thigh-highs included) and 80 original drawings, ahead of the Toronto opening of the Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes exhibit (which runs from May 16th, 2018 through to January 2019 at the Bata Shoe Museum) we gushed over his recent collaborations, Rihanna, his eccentric creative process, and how he’s experimenting with new technology for an upcoming shoe.

 

In your first photo shoot with Irving Penn, you channeled Santa Teresa. Who did you channel today?

“Well, as I was talking about [Luis] Buñuel, I felt very much in that mood. Almost like the double, almost bipolar personality of the Spanish gentleman of that time and age. They created beautiful things. They did wonderful stuff for Salvador Dali. They did Un Chien Andalou, with a cut. The famous picture that he cut the eye.”

You’ve never had an inspiration block, so what’s inspiring you right now?

“Today? I was very much [inspired by] Hollywood. You know, my affliction, obsession in my life is I love movies. Last night, I couldn’t sleep, because it was Mother’s Day, so we had [I] Remember Mama, with Barbara Bel Geddes and Irene Dunne [on TV]. Barbara Bel Geddes is a lady who was in Vertigo, playing the girlfriend of James Stewart, and Irene Dunne. And Show Boat, the first Show Boat, in black and white. Beautiful. My biggest love affair is for the films of Xavier Dolan. Xavier Dolan was the one who did I Killed My Mother and all those movies.”

Jai Tue Ma Mere!

Jai Tue Ma Mere! I was translating; you never know...it’s in French. Really, really, really incredible.”

 

What is your creative process?

“It’s going to take days. But let me just simplify the whole thing. By nature, I’m very curious. When I sleep, it’s even worse. The curiosity amounts three times than the daytime. So I have next to my bed, a huge pencil, a little block of paper. At night [my mind] is kind of a machine starting to work. Sometimes [my eyes aren’t open and] I don’t know what I’m doing. But it’s there, and say, ‘Oh my god! This is what I want to do!’ Dreams that I concretized on paper. In fact, I had a fantastic one last night.”

Really?

“Yes. Give me a pen. Because I forget everything. So if I don’t do it quickly, [I’ll forget]. Here, I’ll do a fake one.”

[Mr. Blahnik sketches]

“Maybe I do something here. I don’t know what. But there’s gonna be a little point here, which I think is sweet.”

 

I love that.

“Don’t photograph my bad hairdo. [Laughs] My eyebrows and my hair, it’s like concrete. I hate hair.”

Are your dreams why you have such a tie to Surrealism like Buñuel?

“Possibly, yes, that is what I have in common. But I don’t belong to that generation. That generation—all of them have it. The poems of García Lorca, the films of Buñuel, the paintings of Salvador Dali, Man Ray in Paris. I can fit very well there [laughs]. I would have loved to. The beginning of the 20th century was exciting.”

Does the creative process differ when you’re doing collaborations?

“That is quite difficult, but I do it immediately. I can smell exactly when they want to do something. Rihanna, I knew immediately that she would love [the designs]. We worked very well for the three seasons. She has the most beautiful face on the planet. Those eyes can kill—you can just fall in love with that girl in seconds. I mean, you do.”

 

You still carve out your designs in wood. Are you utilizing new technologies too?

“I’m doing it next year! They found a new...what do you call it? Resin, that you can make a shoe in one piece. I think the process is gonna be very, very expensive. We have to find the molds, and we have to find the real market for this.”

That’s gonna be so interesting!

“That is what I want to play with. Maybe it’s gonna be a flop, but I don’t care! I love to try things.”

How do you navigate your perfectionism in your realm of creativity?

“Perfection, perfection. The world is very, very difficult to pinpoint. You can never achieve total perfection in anything you do. Go back through Praxiteles, to Phidias, go back to those wonderful Hellenistic masters, and they left behind such a perfection. Figures of human nature—it was wonderful what they created. Even though we have incredible things, modern marvels, I don’t think we have achieved [the same] perfection that the Greeks did with the human form. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.”

 

When curating your retrospective, did you learn anything about yourself?

“I saw myself in places that I never wanted to be. [Laughs] I saw myself in places that I was doing something that I wanted to do at the time. Also forcing myself to do something for needs. But I knew about myself already.”

You’re launching a foundation for abused dogs...

“How do you know that? Not many people know that. That’s one of my biggest things for the future. In southern Spain and the islands, not everybody, but some people give dogs [as gifts] for Christmas and then throw them away, so we want to help them. I have six dogs now—all of them were in such a [bad] state. My mother also had 30 animals on the property. Such beauties. All absolutely in such a bad condition, and they revived beautifully there.

“The cruel thing is the short life of dogs. Monty was two weeks shy of being 20 years [old], which is very rare. He was this West Highland Terrier. My mother took him to the opera. Can you imagine, Monty went to see Baryshnikov in a Gucci bag to the opera house? [Chuckles]”

Can we finish off with just some fun questions?

“Ask me anything!”

 

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

“Orange juice and TCM in America. In London, I eat two toasts, decaf coffee, fresh orange [juice], and then I go back to the office or to the studio.”

What’s your ideal room service order?

“Pasta fagioli! Maybe sea bass, very well done, and vegetables. I’m allergic to vinegar and wine, actually, but I’m very happy if you give me vodka.”

What’s your favorite type of cocktail?

“Brave New World. I love it! It’s one of these old things that they’re reviving now at the Savoy [Hotel] in London. The Savoy cocktail is a bit of gin, a bit of grenadine, passion fruit. It’s divine. You get so high in seconds. I mean, really! One of the best cocktails. I adore them! I don’t have it all the time. I like all the exotic things—a banana daiquiri.”

 

What’s your perfect cup of tea?

“This kind of tea is not fantastic, but I’m really hooked on licorice. It’s this beautiful tea. Boring maybe…”

What do you think makes a perfect dinner party?

“The people. The food of course, but the people.”

Who would be in your perfect dinner party?

“Tennessee Williams. I like those American people of that time. I love Jessica Lange. I adore her. She’s fabulous. And my god, the list is going. Uma, I love Uma Thurman. My god, I’m really very confused now [laughs] I love Naomi Campbell. There’s so many I’d like to have dinner with!”

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