Few names in any pursuit inspire such immediate positive reaction as the name Manolo Blahnik.
For millions of women all over the world, his name is synonymous with shoes.
While Blahnik gained iconic status by being the fashion fetish of the Carrie Bradshaw character on Sex and the City, what keeps women coming back is the bold, colorful design sense and the sheer sexiness of his sleek footwear.
From a business standpoint he’s a colorful story as well. The Spanish native has always designed his own shoes by hand, building each sample himself in artisan fashion before it goes to the factory. Despite his global status, Blahnik’s company is still quite small by international standards — the better for him to keep his personal stamp on everything that bears his name.
Blahnik speaks Saturday, May 21, at 2:30 p.m. at the Lucas in a panel discussion with Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley and fashion writer Eric Wilson. The event is part of SCAD’s Fashion Week festivities and is free and open to the public.
Mr. Blahnik will also receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the evening fashion show (which is now sold out).
We spoke to Mr. Blahnik last week.
When most people think of shoes, they usually don’t think much about color. But perhaps the first thing everyone notices about your shoes is the incredibly vibrant color palette. Why are you so interested in color?
Manolo Blahnik: That’s easy to tell you! I came from the south of Spain, and grew up in the islands, so it’s natural for me. Everything is going to be color. And I don’t mean really discreet color – I like it really shocking — shocking pink, shocking fuchsia. It’s got to be loud!
It seems American style often tends more toward the conservative than European style.
Manolo Blahnik: It depends where you go in the U.S. In Miami they go crazy for colors. In America there are places where we do very conventional shoes, but more color and style emerges suddenly in places you don’t expect it, like Houston. In Boston they love very beautiful styles, for example.
In New York we tend to sell more conservative things. Most of time I see young ladies, career women, who every one every two years buy a crocodile pump! You can see always pumps and safe shoes there.
Those platforms they wear I hate. They’re awful, out of shape things, wrong for a woman’s legs and dress. I though they would go away immediately, but they’ve lasted years!
It does seem like society has embraced ugliness in all things over the last ten or 15 years. Not just in fashion, but throughout pop culture.
Manolo Blahnik: Unfortunately you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s true. Maybe the canon of beauty has just changed. Maybe technology has intervened to make it easier to popularize ugly things. Most designs today are just out of shape, there’s no beauty, no balance. And it isn’t logical — it’s a touch of illogical to walk in those things. I’ve never seen so many broken or twisted ankles!
Interesting you’d say that, considering you’re famous for stiletto heels.
Manolo Blahnik: Well, we’ve never actually had a real problem with that.
Does that go to workmanship?
Manolo Blahnik: The lack of! If you do work in shoes as long as I have, you know you’re doing something wrong. If you make something hideous, you know when something is wrong.
Do your design concepts always start with the heel? What is the central focus as you begin?
Manolo Blahnik: In my mind I don’t have a heel or last or shape, even. When I have ideas it’s very abstract.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and say I’m going to do this, and then I take that idea to the paper and doodle. The next day, maybe it’s working, and that’s when I really start.
I don’t want to change heels or shapes very often. I don’t like to be in fashion design, really. Of course we end up there because of what we do.
You’re so unusual in that you still are so hands–on with your work, crafting designs by hand. It’s still so personalized.
Manolo Blahnik: It’s like everything when you do things with your hands. I just came back from the factory — I came back to Milan at 12:30 at night. It’s a good thing I had wonderful room service, because when I’m in the factories I lose track of time, I’m having such good moments!
Would you tell fashion students to work the same way, with their hands, or is that just too unrealistic nowadays?
Manolo Blahnik: If they ask me, that’s what I’ll tell them to do! Most people nowadays, especially young people, design everything by computer, by internet. They use technology because it’s more economical, and maybe easier for them to learn that way because of how they’re taught in schools.
I don’t work that way — I have to touch the material, touch the machines. I should put gloves on but sometimes I forget to put my gloves on! Sometimes I hurt myself! The sample and last are done first myself. For heels I have a wonderful specialist, and the balance is perfect. Everything is to my taste.
That’s why you’re so successful.
Manolo Blahnik: It’s like anybody if they do anything semi–artistic, or semi–applied art — that sounds so pretentious, doesn’t it? When you do things like that you also have to be involved in everything. It helps if you have other interests. I have too many other interests to tell you the truth!
You have to be twisted like I am to be able to see influences in so many things. I really try not to read too much or get too much information simply because I don’t want to be contaminated. Whatever happens is myself. If it’s terrible it’s terrible because it’s myself.
In the shoe business life, you have to please these women out there. I have a niche with these ladies, but I always want more. As I get older I get more demanding on myself — other people too actually!
Mr. Blahnik appears with Andre Leon Talley and Eric Wilson at 2:30 p.m. Sat. May 21 at the Lucas Theatre as part of SCAD’s Fashion Week. The event is free and open to the public.