LONDON — Britain’s luxury industry may be ready to honor Manolo Blahnik next week for a storied career, but ask the designer and he’ll argue it’s way too early to be talking about such things.
“A legend? I don’t think I’ll ever be a legend. That’s maybe in other people’s minds — but not in mine. I still have a future, a few more years — I hope,” said the designer, whose drawing board is full and whose passion for history, the classical world — and tradition — remains unquenchable.
On Nov. 19 Blahnik will receive the Luxury Legend award from Walpole, the sector body for U.K. luxury, during the black-tie British Luxury Awards at London’s Dorchester hotel.
The award recognizes outstanding individual achievement in, and contribution to, the success of luxury, with past winners including Justine Picardie, editor of Harper’s Bazaar U.K., Ralph & Russo and Julia Peyton-Jones, former director of the Serpentine Galleries in London.
“To say Manolo is a legend is far from hyperbole, it’s almost an understatement,” said Helen Brocklebank, chief executive officer of Walpole.
The man known to the industry and consumers alike as Manolo said winning accolades was never his end game.
“You know what? I have never done anything with goals or with the idea of having to arrive ‘there’ — never. Everything I do in my life has been spontaneous. Even this career of mine has been a kind of monument to spontaneity. It was a casual thing,” he said in an interview.
What he loves is the idea of creating decoration, things that help people dream and escape the day-to-day. “I also do this for myself. What I do is for satisfaction — and I love it, I adore it.”
Creation is an ongoing challenge, he said, and he often has to rein himself in. “Sometimes I think I’m going too far, that it’s too much. If the materials I’m using are too expensive, a little voice inside tells me ‘no’ because then not everyone can afford to buy it.
“Sometimes I am very opulent — I adore opulence. In my personal life I am very simple, but in my fantasy life everything would be Catherine (the Great) of Russia — beautiful materials, beautiful embroidery. Sometimes I just have to check myself, I have to say ‘no.’ I would like to find room for everybody to have my shoes. So instead of doing too much embroidery I can do some very simple things, too, simple lines.”
A longtime lover of the classical world, Blahnik lives in Bath, England, an ancient Roman thermal spa, and he still can’t get enough of Taormina’s Greek temples. He said he’s always peppering his pal Mary Beard, the Cambridge University classicist, with questions about history.
“Without tradition, we are nothing,” said Blahnik, adding that the ancient Greeks and Romans managed to create “such beauty with stone or marble. How extraordinary that they’ve lasted. Every time I go to one of the exhibitions I say, ‘My goodness, we have gone mad, everything today is being created by technology, by computers, and it is quite disheartening when you see the past and how splendid and beautiful it is.”
He added that nowadays, “you can hardly find anyone who knows how to embroider or how to do stitches — beautiful stitches. You have to go to Florence for that.”
Asked about some of his favorite creations over the years, Blahnik didn’t pause. “The shoes that I did for Sofia (Coppola) for the movie ‘Marie Antoinette.’ She said to me, ‘Don’t think academically, do something sexy.’ I used the most wonderful silks from Lyon and I did them myself, I had a wonderful time.”
It’s no surprise that Blahnik’s not hot on fashion’s current obsession with sneakers — especially the opulent ones.
“Not everyone loves those terrible, expensive sneakers that you see around, the ones that cost 2,000 pounds with gold chains. I find it kind of vile — sorry. I am always frank. They’re expensive and pretty vile looking. There is nothing modern about sneakers. They have been going on for years. I was watching ‘Love Story’ the other day and I saw Ryan O’Neal was wearing Adidas. This mania about the sneaker is just kind of boring now.”
What Blahnik is doing is creating more flats and lower heels. “I want to do more and more flat shoes. They are doing well, they sell, and women just love them.”
For summer he said he’s working on a shoe with “a beautiful, beautiful heel, not very high and wearable.” He describes the heel as being like a “Brancusi statue — something like that.” A case of legends thinking alike.