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14 Sep 2017

Manolo Blahnik, shoe designer extraordinaire, gets ready for the debut of a film about his life

By: Kavita Daswani

Source: Los Angeles Times


Manolo Blahnik, the iconic designer of luxury footwear and accessories, was caught in a summer storm in Prague while attending the opening of an exhibition of his famous shoes at the Kampa Museum.

“Forgive me,” he said, stifling a cough, via phone. “I got terribly drenched. But there were a lot of women there. It was wonderful. I don’t know how. I don’t even sell in the Czech Republic.”

The 74-year-old Spanish designer should be accustomed to acclaim. Blahnik, who lives in Bath, England, called in to chat about the soon-to-open film about his life. “Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards” is directed by fashion journalist Michael Roberts and made with a production team including fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave and documentarian Louise Bray.

The 89-minute film interweaves historic footage with dramatizations as well as interviews with the shoe designer and tastemakers including Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley. The actual production has a beguiling surreal quality with the decorative shoes laced through leafy trees or resting on a sandy shore — each one a perfect Instagrammable moment.

With the opening of his store in London in 1973, Blahnik created a new category, the shoe as an art form, and a luxury brand distilled into a single noun among fashionistas — “Manolos,” a word once regularly uttered by Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City.” Blahnik still designs every pair, sustaining a fascination for footwear that started when he was a little boy in the Canary Islands, capturing lizards and putting shoes on them that he had fashioned from the wrappers of Cadbury chocolates.

 

What was your initial response to this movie being made?

I immediately said, “No.” I’m not very good in front of the cameras. I had just had a fall and was full of cortisone. … My legs and ankles were swollen. I really just wanted to stay in the background. But I’ve known Michael for a long time, so I eventually gave in.

Were there moments in the process of making the film when you were self-conscious?

I’m not shy but I’m not a natural actor. But I would talk for five seconds and then forget about the camera and relax. I don’t really understand that film world. I’m not sure who many celebrities are these days — unless it’s someone very famous like Nicole Kidman.

In the film, there’s an anecdote about your first fashion show, the one with designer Ossie Clark, in which your shoes were so poorly made the models couldn’t walk in them. Were there a lot of moments like that in your early career?

It took 15 years for me to be in control of my craft. The first two years were a disaster. I was not meant to be a designer of shoes. I was going to work in the United Nations. It was [the late Vogue Editor in Chief] Diana Vreeland who put me on the road to shoes.

Your shoes have interesting names such as Hangisi and Nadira. How do you choose them?

I love strange, exotic names that I pick up while reading a book or spinning [a globe]. Next season I’m giving my shoes Russian names.

Do you use technology at all in your life or workmanship?

I’m curious about the Internet, but I’m an old-fashioned person. I love to find out about things through people, books, lectures at universities. That is what I call real life. I still go into the factories, do all my drawings by hand, make the heels and lasts myself.

Are you worried about the future of traditional shoe-making?

All the old techniques are disappearing. People don’t care as much about a good product. It’s now more about making something and having it be a quick hit. I’m worried about creativity in the world, where people are only thinking about selling a lot of something for a conglomerate, and if that doesn’t happen, it’s goodbye. They keep talking about mood boards. I have one of those in my head.

After all this time, do you still recognize a pair of Manolos when you see one?

If I have my glasses on, yes.

 

“Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards” opens for a one-week engagement starting Sept. 15 at the Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.