“What shoes does one wear to meet Manolo Blahnik?” I wonder the morning I’m set to meet the designer. Too flashy risks looking try-hard, anything fast-fashion is out of the question and my only pair of Manolos (proudly acquired at a thrift store) has a broken heel. I settle on a pair of ’90s black mules with an elongated toe and short heel—definitely not Manolos but close in spirit—and walk over to the Bata Shoe Museum, where the new exhibit, Manolo Blahnik: Art of Shoes is set to open to the public.
Once I meet Mr. Blahnik, who is dressed in a double-breasted light grey suit, tan suede brogues and round glasses with thick acetate rims, I almost wish I’d hobbled over in those broken-heel booties. Our interview takes place amid the throng of VIPs who are previewing the exhibit, and anytime someone passes Blahnik in a pair of his shoes, he momentarily leaves our conversation to admire his creations. Then, towards the end of our chat, he notices something by my feet. It’s not my shoes, but a book sticking out of my bag. “That’s nice,” he says, pointing out the cover, which is printed with Van Gogh-like sunflowers. Maybe it will inspire his next pair.
A shoe from the Manolo Blahnik: Art of Shoes exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto Image by: George Pimentel
How does it feel to see so many of your pieces in one room like this?
“Sometimes when I look at the things, I just have moments of being a young man. It reminds me of what I was thinking, what I was doing…It’s normal when you do things like that. Some of the things are very distant already and some of them, I love them tremendously.”
Is fashion exciting you now?
“Fashion is not exciting for me anymore—sorry! There’s noise but not much real talent coming along. I don’t see many people. In France you have Jacquemus, I like young people. I’m tired of old bags like me. And Grace Wales Bonner. I adore her! She came to me two years ago, immediately I loved her. I’m working with her on shoes and I’m having fun.”
So how do you stay inspired?
“Maybe because I have an incredible curiosity of life and this makes me much more…enchanted? When I do something maybe it isn’t new, but it’s with a new spirit.”
Is there anything new left in fashion?
“There’s always something, yes. But the Met Gala, why do they have themes anymore? People just don’t get it right. I’m a Catholic so I’m a little embarrassed. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s a masterpiece what Mrs. Wintour does, but what I mean is, people get it so wrong. But from this exhibition, I saw the famous white Balenciaga dress with the huge huge nun [habit] and I went, ‘My god, this is fantastic.’ I understand very much the old Balenciaga. The new one… I don’t know who it is.”
What makes a shoe memorable for you?
“It’s like a perfume. You smell it and you remember. I work at night, I have dreams and I just put it down. You can never be a perfectionist, I don’t think perfection is attainable.”
What’s the most rewaring part of your job?
“The women who buy the shoes and wear them, and certain women give them incredible personality. I love it.”
And the most challenging?
“To be able to get excited about anything you do. Some people get lazy, or exhausted, but to me, I still have the same kind of freshness. This is the challenge for me—to be challenged. If I don’t have it, I’d probably get bored and stop doing it. Everyday I have something new to learn.”