Exclusive! Manolo Blahnik On His Love For New York, Staying Humble, and Why He’s Not That Into Zooming

by Eddie Roche

After a year in flats, New Yorkers’ feet are in for a treat with the opening of MANOLO BLAHNIK stores in East Hampton and on Madison Avenue. We thought this was a perfect time to get on the phone with Mr. Blahnik to discuss how he got through the past year, why he doesn’t want to be called a legend, and his lifelong adoration of New York City.

How has the past year been for you?
It was like a month because I didn’t see anyone and every day was the same. I was fortunate to have the manufacturers [working] to do the samples. Every day was torture with Zoom! Hours and hours! I was very busy. I think I had a little bit of a better time than others because I had time to do the work quietly without being pushed too much. But it’s been horrific. I don’t know if we’ll see that in your lifetime again. I hope not.

How were you able to stay creative?
I’ve always got ideas. For creativity, I have to edit myself sometimes. It didn’t affect my creativity. But I hadn’t seen anyone for one year because I had some kind of pneumonia in 2018 and had a problem with my lungs. My doctor said I could not get out. I learned a lot of patience. I was a very impatient person and I’m not any longer. Well, I am!

Manolo Blahnik

Manolo Blahnik (Courtesy)

How did you keep busy?
Do you know what saved my year? The Criterion Collection. After I worked all day and the Zoom nonsense, at night I’d have hours and hours of Criterion channel. They have wonderful movies by [directors] Bimal Roy and Satyajit Ray and movies like Dodes’ka-den. Criterion to me is academic. It’s my salvation! It’s not television. It’s for people who love movies, and I love movies!

What are you looking forward to this summer?
My dogs! One of my Labradors had six babies, so I’m going to have seven dogs this summer. As soon as I can I want to travel, but I cannot go to my place in the Canary Islands because everything is locked down. It’s not like New York or even London. You still have to be careful! Don’t be too confident. Alber Elbaz had two COVID vaccinations and he died. It’s strange.

What are your memories of Alber?
We used to meet at a place that doesn’t exist anymore, Conran’s in the Michelin House [in London]. My last memory of him was such a lovely afternoon. Fun! And he was very intelligent. He was witty and quick! I’m a little bit quick, so we got on very well.

What do you think fashion is going to look like moving  forward? A return to the Roaring Twenties?
I don’t know about the Roaring Twenties because I wasn’t there, but I’ve read a lot! I was talking to a friend of mine and she said you don’t know the amount of people who are desperate to get their hands on beautiful clothes. I’m not taking about nonsense from H&M. I’m talking about dresses. Things you invest in and buy and have for years. My thing is make less but better quality. Young kids, like the daughters of my customers, think in this way. They want to get dressed again. They can’t wait to be glamorous. Women love to be beautiful. After a year of solitude and sadness, it’s a desire. It’s like a necessity to buy beautiful stuff.

Women couldn’t shop in stores this past year…
They prefer to buy stuff this way! People are dying to come back to shops. We opened our shop in London recently and we had people waiting outside. People need to see it and try it and talk to the salespeople. Nobody can take that away from people. The whole system of buying and selling is changing. It’s important to have technology; it’s marvelous. But don’t forget tradition. You can combine both of them beautifully. People want to touch it and smell it.

You’re opening a pop-up in the Hamptons.
And a Madison Avenue store, which is quite pretty. Much prettier than the old one. I’m so excited about that store! New York will always be New York. People are saying New York is so quiet, but it’s quiet because we have a terrible pandemic in the world. It will be okay again! I’m optimistic like that. The essence of New York is excitement, and you can’t take that away from people. In the ’50s, you had excitement about literature; in the ’60s, you had fashion. Everything is going to change, but yes it’s another kind of excitement! New York will always be New York. I have an affection for the city. I was there in ’70s. In the ’80s, it wasn’t safe, it was filthy, even like that I adore it.

How involved are you in the creation of the stores?
All of them I wanted different. The Paris one I did completely on my own. I intervene, but I don’t follow the whole thing. This is the first time we’ve done it by Zoom. Everything is being done like that.

I’m getting the sense you’re not loving Zoom!
It’s a little bit of torture, but I do it. I belong to another generation! My nature is very chameleon. I adapt to everything, but I find it nerve-racking. Any time you need to sneeze, you have to say excuse me to all these different people.

I watched Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, the 2017 documentary on your life again recently.
I’m not mad about that documentary. They cut it wrong. It’s fine. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself in it. I look like God knows what. If you like it, fine!

I liked it! We learn in the film that you like rituals. What rituals remain a part of your life now?
I don’t mean rituals like going to mass every Sunday. I did that as a young boy and I hated it. My rituals are a different kind. I have time to read; I have time to go to theater and movies. Every day I watch two or three movies. I always have my bloody tea at the same time in the afternoon. In the mornings, I have my coffee. I’m a victim of grooming. I have to be perfectly groomed.

Manolo Blahnik

Manolo Blahnik

You come off as quite humble.
I am. Why should I not be humble? Humility is a must in everybody.

You’re considered a legend in fashion…
I’m not dead yet. A legend? Really? I don’t want to be a legend yet!

Is your job harder or easier now?
Harder now. I demand too much of myself.

How do you want the company to move into the future?
I want to be loyal and give customers what they want from me. I want to be myself. I want the company to be that way, too. I don’t think about the future too much. The future is tomorrow. I live in the now.

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