The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine
The art of the heel
What could be more fabulous than a pair of Manolos? The shoesmith’s favourite heels paired with his pick of old masters, that’s what. To mark the launch of his new exhibition, Mr Blahnik talks shoes and the muse with Bethan Holt
As he launches a new exhibition combining his footwear and the old masters, Bethan Holt has an audience with outspoken shoe maestro Manolo Blahnik
Manolo Blahnik has a rotten bout of the flu so has been tucked up in bed for the past few days. ‘This is like a holiday!’ he wheezes, his Spanish accent as lyrical as ever, when I apologise for calling him when he really should be resting.
Blahnik doesn’t do poorly quite like the rest of us. During his confinement, he’s devoured Nicky Haslam’s latest collection of short stories, The Impatient Pen, which takes him meandering down the path of recounting his own tales of the people Haslam encounters. ‘He did a wonderful story about Lee Radziwill [Jackie Kennedy’s younger sister]; it’s the first time I’ve seen someone capture this woman so well,’ he effuses (if anyone’s an effuser, it’s Manolo). ‘I met her so many times in New York with Carolina Herrera. I last saw her last summer and she was frail which made me sad. She was so beautiful… and was never bitter about anything.’
He has also managed to use his downtime to become obsessed by the ancient Greek sanctuary Delphi, so much so that he’s considering basing his entire next collection on classical Greece. ‘I love going around the Benaki museum in Athens – you have everything you want! I could copy it all, but I hate that. It can inspire you and you can use the details and mood, but I can’t copy. My mother always said I was a contradictorian – if anything was fashionable, I would run a mile.’
Blahnik, 76, is a shoe maestro who has created fashion, rather than ever following it. ‘They said to me that I should do a wonderful collection of running shoes and I said, “What?! I’m not vile like that!” I’m not into this at all. It’s for the new tacky generation.’ The Manolo look is much more about timeless, delicious, decadent elegance.
He’s the man who created the jewel-encrusted Hangisi heels that Mr Big uses to propose to Carrie in Sex and the City. Anna Wintour will only wear (bespoke) Manolos and Amal Clooney, Rihanna and the Duchess of Sussex are just a handful of his other famous fans. ‘She is ravishing!’ Blahnik says of Meghan, who wore his BB pumps to introduce baby Archie last month. ‘I hear she loves my shoes, but I haven’t seen. She has wonderful legs though.’
Eventually we get to the real purpose of our call, which is to discuss Blahnik’s exhibition at The Wallace Collection in London. A selection of his chosen designs, dating back to the ’70s, are set to be shown amid the treasures of the museum, where he has been stoking his vast knowledge of art history since he was a boy. ‘I just love it there,’ Blahnik squeals/coughs. ‘The last time I went I discovered an incredible Velàzquez – it’s called The Lady with afan and there’s a version at Chatsworth.’
With a little help from Blahnik, The Wallace Collection’s director, Dr Xavier Bray, has organised the exhibition, entitled An Enquiring Mind, into themes such as ‘Love and Passion’ and ‘High Baroque’. Here, Blahnik talks about five of the styles he most adores.
An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at The Wallace Collection (wallacecollection.org) is on from Monday till 1 September. Admission free