As his newest store opens in Mayfair, we grabbed a few moments with the maker of shoe shaped dreams, Mr Manolo Blahnik himself.
The legendary Manolo Blahnik has had a shop in London for the majority of his not inconsiderable career. That Old Church Street store is nestled away in Chelsea and has, in many ways, been the nucleus of his now iconic company. 44 years, an archive of handmade high heels, and a whole lot of Sex & The City name-drops later, he’s opening another store in Burlington Arcade at the heart of Old World Mayfair. It’s an intimate space full of Blahnik’s trademark eclecticism – think silk lamps and vividly shaded Ottomans – and even boasts a private-shopping room for uninterrupted browsing. Yesterday, the label held a lavish opening party attended by a host of big names including Suzy Menkes, Mary Beard, Yasmin Le Bon and, of course, Wonderland.
Between gawping at Blahnik’s lavish and endlessly coveted designs (not to mention his beautifully cut lavender suit), I got the chance to grab a few minutes with him to talk tailoring, inspiration and why the Burlington Arcade has held an enduring appeal for the maestro. Suffice to say, with his erratic charm, lively sense of humor, and an elegance that recalls those great Salon designers of old like Hubert Givenchy and Cristobal Balenciaga, he was everything I expected and more.
Wonderland: How are you feeling about today?
Manolo Blahnik: Other than some incredible bronchitis, I’m very well! I’ve given you my medical before we start to talk.
So, why Burlington Arcade?
Simply because I have always been in love with that period from the middle to the end of the 19th Century in London, and this area was really all of that. The way people write about it and the fact it’s in so many books…there’s been so much use. For me, this is London. And for years and years I resisted having another shop because I thought, “oh I don’t like shops very much.” But then two years ago I thought, “here’s a shop in Burlington. This is the time to do it.” Because we don’t have anyone in my family putting money up or anything we had to wait! I wanted it to be really very simple just with some Georgian pieces for decor.
And it’s really the home of classic menswear, which you’re obviously a big fan of?
Exactly! I love tradition! I love wonderful linen, the most beautiful linens in Europe come from the North. I really like heavy tweeds, I was going to come in something like that today and then Suzy Menkes said, ‘violet! I love violet!’ So I came in this suit.
Of course, where do you get your suits made?
Oh, just round here. The first time I had some money in my pocket I went to Anderson and Sheppard. I love tweeds and I love colour – even though I’m on old boy I still like to have some fun, some excitement.
How do you go about designing men’s shoes?
[picks up boot] I looked to Gallipoli or Victorian times for this particular one. A touch of the dandy but also something a little bit different.
Do you have a favourite design that you’ve made?
I’m a real sucker for an American saddle shoe. Or maybe some Grecian nonsense! I love fantasizing about times gone by. If it’s ever a disaster who cares? I will wear it myself.
I feel like you have a very historical imagination?
Unfortunately yes. I do enjoy the 20th century, the 19th century and the 18th century, but not so much the Middle Ages. I don’t know why. It’s never been my type of thing. But I was raised reading Enid Blyton – so I love a saddle shoe – and I just love historical England.
Manolo Blahnik’s store at Burlington Arcade opens to the public on the 4th February.
Words: Benji Walters