"It was the Palais-Royal or nothing,” says Manolo Blahnik. The Spanish shoe designer has this definitive way of asserting things, as he plans to inaugurate his first Parisian boutique next autumn in the gardens of the Palais-Royal. “I waited a long time, because I wanted it to be located exactly here, under the arcades of this beautiful garden. It is a place that is very dear to me, it represents for me the intrinsic beauty of Paris. I discovered it in 1961, the first time I came to Paris,” explains the Spanish designer from his vivid memory.
“My memory of Paris is related to the people I met. When I first came to Paris, they were magical and carefree years. I lived on Bonaparte street, close to Saint-Germaindes- Prés. I remember sitting on the terrace of Café de Flore with my friend Shirley Goldfarb, and we were looking at the women passing by. They had an exquisite style... but, the case is not the same anymore! People do not know how to get dressed anymore,” says Manolo reminiscing the past.
Born in 1942 in Santa Cruz de la Palma in the Canary Islands to a Czech father who was the owner of a pharmaceutical laboratory, and a Spanish mother, owner of a banana plantation, there was nothing predestined for young Manolo to embrace the profession of footwear. “It’s the most complete chance, I would say that the profession of shoe designer came to me. I was destined to become a diplomat, at least that was what my parents would have liked. One of my uncles worked at the United Nations in Geneva, my parents then sent me there for a summer internship, when I was 17. Then I stayed there to study law. I liked that, especially ancient law, as I have always been interested to understand how democracy works.”
Hitherto confined to the contours of his island, where he attended school at home. The young Manolo Blahnik used to take advantage of the shared proximity of Geneva with France and England. He used the escape to spend the weekends there and go uninhibited. He then enrolled for a short time at the Louvre School in Paris, sometimes worked in a vintage London boutique and multiplied meetings with various designers who had the caliber to become the style of tomorrow.
“During those days, what really interested me was the scenography, I always dreamt of becoming a theatre designer and I drew a lot.” One of his drawings, co-incidentally fell into the hands of Diana Vreeland who is actually responsible to seal her fate. He adds, “She said to me, ‘Look no further, you are made to create shoes!’ For me, it was a sensational revelation. This strong liking for shoes comes to me from my mother. She traveled a lot with my father, to Madrid, Marseille, Monaco and more, and I remember her bringing back from these trips a collection of shoes including a pair that particularly marked me. I kept each one of them, they are at my place. My mother had even convinced a shoemaker on the island to make a custom pair just for her. I remember witnessing the scenario with wondering eyes. That process of creation won me for life. The love for the shoes comes from there, undoubtedly.”
Difficult to master, this creative technique remains to be the favourite of Manolo Blahnik till date. Even today, he draws by hand each of his models, in a small room of his house dedicated only to that. He explains, “I sketch all this in ink, it is necessary to be careful it’s very messy… I am famous for these models with the links fitting in the ankle, but it’s very complicated to do! Everything is a question of balance. That can quickly make you vulgar, you know.” Manolo takes his inspiration mainly from books, films, theater, and actresses.
Time and now
When he does not travel the world for his professional obligations - he has nearly 320 points of sale across the globe. He now divides his time between his London home and his Bath residence in Somerset, South of England which he discovered in 1983, during a stay with fashion editor Grace Coddington. He further continues to cultivate his own style of dress more than ever, which has always been colourful and cleverly elegant.
“I have always liked to wear colour, I think it brings joy, right? Especially in England where the weather is always so uncertain. When it rains or is gray, I dress in red. And I find that being well dressed is a sign of respect, for oneself and for others, don’t you think? People are not making any more efforts today, I find that a real shame,” concludes Manolo.