Manolo Blahnik’s story in the 1970s, London, New York – Footwear News
“Everyone is saying the same thing, that this stage is quite extraordinary. Seems to me like 50 days or months. I had such a divine time – bad times too. In my mind, 50 is a lie.
Manolo Blahnik is zooming in from his home in Bath, England, and the 78-year-old shoe legend is feeling particularly energetic after receiving his coronavirus booster at the end of October.
Off-camera and masked, Blahnik – who works alongside eagle-eyed house historian Jamie Prieto – worries about his voice, clearly frustrated at having to speak through a computer screen.
The charismatic designer, reluctantly, has spent nearly two years online now – using technology to work with the factory on making his collections, as in-person visits were not possible due to “this terrible sickness”. “It’s so rewarding talking to them – they know how I cut, they know how I put the colors on [together]. They are my best people. They are craftsmen and I love them. The factory is the only place where I’m really happy. I could be there from 8 am to midnight, which I have been several times, ”he said.
Although he is clearly anxious to return to Italy, Blahnik said he is learning to adapt to uncertain times and savoring his loneliness. “I went to see people where I got the vaccine, and it was very strange. I feel very happy to be alone. But I have learned to be patient and more tolerant in a way. Mind you, I’ve had fights before today, but still!
His attention is drawn to the black and white photos scrolling across the screen, and Blahnik is immediately transported to 1970s London. “Funny, the ’70s are absolutely a lot brighter than the’ 80s,” says he, as he begins to recount his adventures as an emerging talent and a man of the city.
“Ah! This is me in Bath in 1979.
“I see a picture of Paloma [Picasso] look very young, and me without glasses.
“The other on the left comes from [my first store] on Old Church Street. It was the very beginning. I had nothing to put in the store!
From there, the conversation took off. Over the next hour and 20 minutes, Blahnik showed off roughly five decades of hilarious antics, exhilarating friendships, unforgettable catwalks and, most importantly, masterful footwear.
Here, through untold stories and past anecdotes from the FN archives, Blahnik, in his own words, takes us on an incredible journey through the decades. First, the 1970s.
After a fateful meeting, the great start
“It was new to me, this notion of shoes. It happened by mistake.
After studying international law and an internship at the United Nations in Geneva, a young and curious Blahnik moved to Paris at the end of the 1960s to learn about art and scenography. Soon he established himself firmly in the city’s cultural scene and surrounded himself with an eclectic group of friends.
But he didn’t really have a life plan.
Then everything changed. During a trip to New York in 1970, Paloma Picasso introduced Blahnik to Diana Vreeland, the legendary fashion editor. “Before we first met, I was absolutely terrified as I knew she was such a legend and such an authority on fashion, [but] without it, I simply wouldn’t be where I am today. I remember she had these amazing faux python boots that I thought were divine, ”he recalls.
Seeing Manolo’s sketches for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Vreeland focused on Hippolyta’s high-heeled sandal decorated with ivy and cherries and said, “Make shoes. It was the boost he needed – and a year later Blahnik quit his job at Feathers fashion boutique in London and created his very first collection.
On the trail to Ossie Clark
Already well connected, the designer developed his inaugural collection in 1971 – called Quorum Black Magic – for the most prominent British fashion designer of the time, Ossie Clark. “It was very successful because everyone who was someone in London was at the show at the Royal Court Theater: [painter] David Hockney, [photographer] Eric Boman and [designer and photographer] Cecil Beaton, ”Blahnik recalls.
Her breathtaking ankle tie platform with a chunky high heel got everyone talking. There was just one problem: the designer, who had no formal training in shoes, forgot to fix the rubber heel with steel. “At the end of the show, Cecil said, ‘Oh my dear, this is a new way of walking.’ The girls were walking very strangely, like insects.
Old church street
“A friend of mine, Peter Young, found the place. He was great, and [went on] winning Oscars for ‘Batman’ and all those movies. He said, ‘There is a wonderful place, and it is outside of everything and there are no shops on the street, only a pastry shop. I loved it and took it, not thinking I had no one, clients, nothing. Friends would come in the afternoon and have tea and cakes from the store next door. There was a wonderful girl, Amanda Grieve, who came all the time. Later she was Amanda [Harlech] and has become important. All the girls came in … and it’s [when] I made myself known a little.
Her daily routine
“I don’t even know how I managed to survive. I lived in Notting Hill and I cycled through the park. Can you imagine I came to the store every day. We opened at 10 a.m. I ate cookies at the pastry shop, then we would call Italy and make the shoes.
Living your best life in London
“I used to go to parties all the time. You know, London was very open to everyone. The English know when you love them and they love you, and it was like that for me. I met all these amazing people – [antique dealer and interior designer] Christophe Gibbs and [society favorites] Ida Ingwood and John Becque. Well, I met John at the French school, but it doesn’t matter anyway. But with all these friends, I was very happy. And back then, these people were just normal people, they weren’t celebrities or anything. It was a wonderful life in London, eccentric. It was nothing like nowadays.
A new love for old Hollywood
When he was not partying, Blahnik spent his evenings at the British Film Institute with his girlfriends. He was fascinated by the cowboy movies of Will Rogers of the 1930s, the silent films of Gary Cooper and the films of Kay Francis. “My education was these films during those 10 years in the 70s.”
Inside the infamous Studio 54
“I was going there and dancing with André [Leon Talley] and Paloma. But there were too many drugs and too many people. I never liked this gay movement at the time in New York. It was overkill and I didn’t really feel like I was part of it. Of course, I was dressed very nicely, I was wearing my gingham suit, and – I don’t know – a hat or something, and they said, “Come on in. “