Manolo Blahnik talks Carrie Bradshaw, Karlie Kloss And His Love Of British Women

Manolo Blahnik

by Edwina Langley |
Published on

‘Who cares about summer and winter, everything is the same thing!’ says designer Manolo Blahnik, when he is told a specific pair of his pumps are no longer on sale because they are ‘last season’. ‘Although I have this incredible thing for flat shoes again,’ he continues. My toes curl inside my (high street, age-old) boots. ‘And I love your hot pants – these are great!’

Stunned, I tell him quickly NOT TO LOOK at my shoes. ‘Oh who cares!’ he laughs. ‘The shoes doesn’t matter, but this is great. No, no, no, I love shorts. Since the Sixties, I love short pants. They used to be called, in the Seventies, they would be called ‘hot pants’. Can you imagine? [Yours are] not ‘hot pants’ because they are much more discreet. Hot pants they were, like, really high…’

Manolo Blahnik Kristina Blahnik
Manolo Blahnik with his niece, Kristina – February 2016 ©Getty

I have only been talking to Mr Blahnik – aka world famous shoe designer – for roughly 49 seconds but already, I have realised two things. Thing one: I think I love him. Thing two: I THINK I LOVE HIM.

We are sitting on the first floor of his brand new boutique in Piccadilly's 19th century Burlington Arcade on the night it launches (and two days before it opens officially). In a calm, clean, pillared space – inspired, simply, by an iPhone photo of a column in his home in Bath (his niece, Kristina, later tells me) – lies a vibrant display of colourful, characterful shoes. Undoubtedly, though, the most characterful aspect of all, is Mr Blahnik himself.

Manolo Blahnik
Manolo Blahnik outside his new store -February 2016 ©Getty

Dressed head-to-toe in pink (a fantastic rose-hued suit, pink-striped socks, electric pink slippers), the septuagenarian is at once, warm and passionate. He loves his new store, he says, because ‘it’s a dream of my youth’. ‘For years and years and years, I waited for something coming up here,’ he explains. ‘And when [it] did, I could afford it. So we rented it’.

To him, the arcade is ‘the centre of London’. ‘I grew up as a boy reading my mother pages of Dickens – I think it was translated in Spanish – and it was all about those areas. Like, “Oh, look at the Burlington Arcade!”’ he says in a deep, dramatic stage whisper. ‘That is a fantasy of mine, I never really lost.’

Blahnik, 73, was raised in the Canary Islands but moved to England in 1968 to work as a buyer for fashion boutique, Zapata. As the story goes, he met Diana Vreeland – the then editor-in-chief of US Vogue – who convinced him to start designing shoes. It seems he never looked back.

Manolo Blahnik
Inside Manolo Blahnik Burlington Arcade...

He says he takes inspiration from ‘everything’, though ‘movements of people and women’ in particular. ‘I have incredible madness about English women,’ he reveals. ‘Since I was a child, I remember seeing Charlotte Rampling… and Julie Christie in all those films that nobody knew in the Sixties. I always thought that English girls had something that nobody else in Europe had – not even the French.

‘The English [have] some kind of freedom that… I don’t know… something ‘movement’ that inspires me. So I came to live here, I came to have a shop here. I love England.’

His flagship store sits on Old Church Street, that sleepy road in Chelsea, and has done for the last 43 years. His Burlington Arcade store is only his second in Britain, and in that – adding to the fact his business remains independent – lies distinct charm.

We talk more about English women, or rather, one in particular: English Classical scholar Mary Beard (I had read the two were friends). ‘I adore her, yes!’ he exclaims. ‘I’ve done many shoes for her. It’s a privilege for me! Just flats… I hope she’s coming today.’

Manolo Blahnik
Manolo Blahnik with Mary Beard (left) and Suzy Menkes (right) - February 2016 ©Getty

He says, however, he doesn’t design with specific women in mind, but concedes stars such as a Jean Shrimpton ‘is inspiring me constantly’. He stops himself suddenly to name-check a model. ‘Big, tall girl… what’s her name?’ he asks over my shoulder.

‘Karlie Kloss,’ his PR replies.

‘Kaaaarlie,’ he purrs. ‘I love Karlie, she’s divine!’

All too soon the precious 5 minutes are up, and my heart swells a bit when I hear him mutter, ‘hardly had time to talk’ (I’m aware it’s not the interaction with me, specifically, he has enjoyed so much, I get the impression he just enjoys human interaction in general).

Manolo Blahnik
Shoes of dreams...

One final question, and well, who else could I ask about but Carrie Bradshaw – the fictional heroine of Sex and the City, brought to life by Sarah Jessica Parker; a character rarely – if ever – out of a pair of ‘Manolos’. What Carrie-worn pair were his favourite? ‘You know, so many that I don’t remember… but she loved pumps, yes, she loved pumps – and sandals...’

As I leave, I note Carrie Bradshaw’s ‘engagement' shoes (the Hangisi 105 royal blue pumps Mr Big proposed to her with) sitting by the till, and something suddenly occurs to me; how wonderful it is that a designer who owes so much of his reputation to Sex and the City, has decided to stay here, in this city.

*Manolo Blahnik at Burlington Arcade is now open. 51 Piccadilly, London.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us