SAVANNAH--Good designers may have flashes of brilliance, but legendary designers marry that inborn talent with a great deal of hard work. And in Manolo Blahnik's case, more modesty than one would expect.
On Saturday, just hours before its top 25 senior fashion collections were shown to students, press, and industry insiders alike, the Savannah College of Art and Design hosted a chat with shoe king Blahnik and his good friend (and SCAD board member) Andre Leon Talley, moderated by Eric Wilson from the New York Times.
Blahnik, who was honored with the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award at the SCAD senior fashion show later that evening, did a bit of reminiscing with Talley about Bianca Jagger, Fire Island, and Sophia Loren's feet. But his answers to Wilson's questions about the industry weren't as cookie cutter as one might expect from such an established name. "I'm still trying to make it," he said off-offhandedly at one moment.
What we learned:
In 1971, Ossie Clark was the first designer to collaborate with Blahnik.The shoes were crepe, supported by steel spines, but they bent on the runway, making the heels look a bit like bananas--and they were a huge hit. The shoemaker went on to design for Alexander McQueen and of course, John Galliano. He particularly liked the silver lame mules he designed for Galliano's Fall 1994 collection, shown in Sao Schlumberger's Paris mansion and featuring models Kate Moss, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista. "He told me to imagine what kind of shoes a Russian princess who had just escaped would wear around Europe."
He's worked with the same Italian factories since the early '70s. "There's a sense of continuity," he told the audience.
Blahnik believes $1,500 for a pair of shoes is "obscene." Especially those shoes are ugly. (By the way, he thinks most modern shoes are just that: "They look more like furniture.")
He owes much to Diana Vreeland. The famous editor told Blahnik, who was originally a set designer for theater, to go with accessories instead. Grace Coddington was another editor who championed him early on. By the time he met Talley in the '70s, he was already pretty in-demand, and the two bonded one weekend on Fire Island. "He was wearing cerulean blue Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche," said Talley. "Everyone else was in short shorts and no shirt."
He feels "very lucky" to be an integral character in Sex and the City.
He loves Julia Roberts. "There are few modern actresses, Hollywood stars that I admire. I wouldn't want any of those girls!"
"Comfort is paramount," to his designs, although he hates platforms. (Except for some he designed in the '70s for Yohji Yamamoto.)
He'd consider doing a collaboration with a mass retailer like Target. "I've been asked and I've always been too busy, but you never know, I would, maybe."
If Blahnik was coming up today, he'd certainly try to intern but..."everybody's dead now. I would have wanted to intern with Yves Saint Laurent."
Oh, and Raquel Welch has really great feet.
Disclosure: SCAD paid for my travel and accommodation.