Last night I stopped by Manolo Blahnik‘s 54th Street boutique where the shoe designer was on hand with author Camilla Morton to sign copies of their new book, Manolo Blahnik and the Tale of the Elves & the Shoemaker (Morton wrote it, Blahnik did the illustrations). I only had four minutes to talk to the man whose creations threatened to send Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw into debt, as the crowd of extremely posh Blahnik-shod women waiting to have the master sign their shoes and books was growing larger by the second.
It makes sense that Morton chose to create a fairy tale of Blahnik’s life since it seems to have played out that way. “Everything in my life is an accident,” he says, downplaying his talent and intense work ethic that has led to his 39-years long successful career. And as the protagonist of a fairy tale, Blahnik–whimsical, witty and utterly charming–fits the bill.
Here’s how my four minutes with Manolo Blahnik played out.
Fashionista: Congratulations on winning the Footwear News lifetime achievement award! (Blahnik had received the honor the night before.) How does it feel?
Manolo Blahnik: Last night I was so surprised. Because when they said lifetime achievement my mind went [makes noise that sounds sort of like dadadadada]. I just have so much to say still.
So what did you say when you went up there to receive the award?
I was a little confused but very proud because at least I’ve worked for 39 years. But I haven’t achieved what I want to do yet. It felt a bit weird. Lifetime achievement is almost like…well, I’m not done yet.
What do you still want to achieve?
I want to do the perfect shoe. I’ve done quite good ones but I haven’t done one yet that’s made me really happy.
What will that look like?
If I knew I would have done it but I have ideas.
What are they?
I did one once this summer which is quite pretty. It’s got a wonderful feeling of the beginning of the 20s in Paris but it has nothing to do with the 20s in Paris. It’s like a Fernand Leger painting with colors and materials all mixed together. I don’t know how they’re going to go in America but in England and Europe they were fantastic. Europe is going down, oh my God…
I think there was some good news on the banks in Europe in today.
Oh you’re kidding me. [Screams, claps hands.] Good news [he shouts to anyone within earshot]! Europe is going to be saved! Possibly. I’m so happy.
I hope so! So in your fairy tale, it says you used to make shoes for animals?
My poor dog was a victim of it. My dog and lizards and everything. I used to just do things with that silver paper.
Did they keep them on?
Not for long no, but my dog did. He loved it.
Publicist: OK, we have to wrap it up.
Blahnik: Can’t you arrange a little bit more space?
Fashionista: I have one more minute, right?
[Publicist walks away. Success.]
I read about the time you sent rubber heels down the runway. Can you tell me about that experience?
That was my big stupidity. I was very inexperienced and young. I didn’t know much about shoes then. I didn’t know rubber doesn’t have the consistency of steel and I didn’t put steel inside and you would see the models moving in such a strange way. This was for Ossie Clark in 1971 or 1972 and I thought, ‘This is going to be the end of me, nobody will buy from me because they look so weird.’ But, no! At the end of the show I hear [Blahnik claps] and people came to me and said, ‘How fabulous, How wonderful!’ Everything in my life is an accident. I don’t plan things they just happen to me!
Well thank you so much for your time.
What time? We didn’t have time at all! This is like a quickie.
Well if I can ask one more question, I know you’re a big cinofile…
Do you know what I did last night? I spent my free two hours before the awards at Barnes and Nobles, one of the last ones left in Manhattan and I went crazy. I got the Passion of Joan of Arc which is very difficult to find in Europe. I like silent movies now. I can’t wait, in New Zealand they found a cache of all these silent movies and the American Film Institute is restoring them and they’ll be available to watch in two years. I can’t wait.