Meeting Manolo AKA Mr Blahnik

He may be the creative genius behind his globally renowned luxury footwear brand but Mr Blahnik, as he likes to be fondly known, is rather dismissive of modern technology. FashionCapital editor JoJo Iles meets the man behind the shoes and gains a glimpse into Mr Blahnik’s world.

Mr Blahnik is clearly not a huge fan of public speaking and self-promotion. “I am terrified to be here, but I am doing this for the wonderful people of Toppings,” he announces. By Toppings he is referring to ‘Topping & Company’ Booksellers in Bath, and their rather fabulous ethos towards reading and browsing for books. A long term resident of Bath Mr Blahnik simply fell in love with the city three decades ago when he was on a visit to the Costume Museum (now Fashion Museum) with Grace Coddington. “Bath is my home, it is the most exquisite city in the world,” he states. In Bath he can remain anonymous while enjoying all that it has to offer.

Of course there is a rather weighty new book, or tome, bearing his name in the offering, entitled ‘Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions’ published by Rizzoli. The pages of which offer an insight into the influences that have shaped his life from art to photography, history to literature as well as inspiring individuals. Over 250 of his iconic shoe designs also make the edit and for those with a penchant for his shoes Mr Blahnik’s design illustrations provide a real visual treat. It was in fact his sketches of shoes that got him to where he is today, after showing them to the then editor of US Vogue Diana Vreeland back in the 1960’s, she simply insisted that he must ‘do shoes.’

"I say to students you learn so much more at the factories."

Unfaltering with a constant flow of ideas Mr Blahnik continues to sketch in this way today. “I hate mood boards, a waste of time” he says, “I work on one idea and follow it through.” His illustrations have in fact made regular appearances in books and ad campaigns and are critiqued as works of art in their own right. For those wanting to follow in Mr Blahnik’s footsteps his advice is very clear. “It took me 10 to 12 years to build on my technical know-how, before I made my shoes so comfortable. I say to students you learn so much more at the factories.” Working with the same factory and “the best ladies that do the best stitching in the world” Mr Blahnik insists that gaining knowledge and experience directly from the makers is invaluable. 

The book, which took three years to compile, also pays homage to the many women that have inspired him over the years from Anna Piaggi to classics professor, Mary Beard. “They are all people who have incredibly strong personalities,” he says, adding “Isabella Blow for example - she always knew what each shoe meant to her, where she would wear it, although she always bought on sale,” he quips.

Mention the internet and social media and Mr Blahnik waves his hand dismissively, “it’s too lazy,” he states. “Times have changed, but it’s too fast now, people should invest in things that last.”  This notion of timeless quality is one that Blahnik has stuck to throughout his lengthy career.  The heel is another staple, “high heels transform you, not too high, but high enough to give that sexy sway.” He adds with a grin, “my mother was 98 and still wearing heels - although she couldn’t walk well!”

Offering more than just a glossy visual treat ‘Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions’ includes conversations, thoughtful essays, places of reference and historical insights into Mr Blahnik’s life and work providing a glimpse into his vivid and creative-fuelled world. 

‘Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions’ by Manolo Blahnik published by Rizzoli

Images courtesy of Rizzoli

Portrait by Chris Daw 

By JoJo Iles