PARIS — Manolo Blahnik last week marked the upcoming opening of his first shop-in-shop at the Paris flagship of French department store Printemps with a party celebrating his 40 years in business. Guests took in an exhibition featuring creations such as the Principe de Lampedusa, a red satin evening shoe festooned with antique Sicilian coral. To mark the occasion, the Spanish designer is reissuing the Ivy sandal, originally created for British designer Ossie Clark in 1971. Rechristened the Ossie, it’s available in green or black suede in a limited edition of 60, for 650 euros, or $845 at current exchange. WWD caught up with Blahnik to talk about fame, buckles and Marie Antoinette.
WWD: “Sex and the City” made you a household name. How do you feel about being recognized everywhere you go?
Manolo Blahnik: Miss Parker, I really think she’s a saint, because she helped me reach a new generation of women. Now I have the daughters of my first customers and their granddaughters coming to me also. In January, I will have been going for 40 years — it’s unbelievable. But I still can’t get used to being recognized. I won’t say I suffer but it’s like I’m losing part of my intimacy, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s very pleasant — it depends how I feel. Sometimes, in the airport, when a lady at customs says to me, “Oh, Mr Blahnik, it’s nice to see you, how’s business?” It’s sweet, but sometimes it’s a bit too much. I’m not a movie star, I’m not a pop star, I’m nothing. I’m just a man who works in shoes. Mind you, Rose Bertin, who used to be Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker, every time she went to the palace, there were lines of people following her. But it’s a bit too much now. I have no perception, really, that I’m known. It helps me in a way. This thing happened to me late so I know what the pitfalls are, when you believe your own hype. It’s good for selling shoes, but I never believe what I do is “genius.” It’s something that I do with passion and with such pleasure that it’s not even work. What is work is dealing with the factories, when I have people saying, “We don’t have the color, we can’t find it, the colorist is not doing it anymore, it’s the crisis, you must understand.”
WWD: Has the debt crisis had a big impact on your sourcing decisions?
M.B.: Yes — materials, colors. Oh God, it’s tough. For instance, let’s say in Paris you go to Lesage. Monsieur Lesage passed away last year, but in the past, you would go to him and say, “Do you think this is feasible? How is it going to be priced?” He would always come up with a solution. That kind of thing is now going to India. You can’t even see the drawings. It takes two or three days by DHL or Federal Express. Some of the people are just gone. It’s strange. A buckle place near Milan that I used to work with very closely, they are going to close everything and move somewhere outside Hong Kong. I find it very difficult to deal with this, all the more because the priorities, the necessities of rich people, God bless them, is to be interested in what we do. But it’s sad. If this situation is not resolved quickly, many people are going to suffer. The savoir-faire is going to go.
WWD: When was the last time you felt inspired?
M.B.: The last time was at the Prado museum. I saw an exhibition of tenebrist painters, like José de Ribera and Zurbarán — painters who do have that kind of madness. And by the time I left, I was almost myself in ecstasy because of the inspiration. I came out with thousands and thousands of ideas. I thought, “This is not possible. This is ridiculous. You’re not going to sell one pair. The manufacture is going to go crazy if I give them those ideas, and these mixtures of colors — silks with huge bunches of printed spots on ponyskin.” It was impossible, I had to tone it down.
WWD: Which famous person do you still dream of making shoes for?
M.B.: I really don’t know, I think I’ve covered the ground. I would have loved making shoes for Pauline Borghese or maybe Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour — all those ladies.