Manolo Blahnik is calling from his home in Spain’s Canary Islands, where he is supposed to be winding down after a frenetic few months that included factory visits to Italy, a busy London schedule, Kate Moss’ wedding and a stateside trip.
But on this Friday evening in July, Blahnik isn’t relaxing. He’s at the drawing table.
“Oh no, I’m not taking a holiday,” the designer said. “To me, working is just pure joy, being able to design whatever comes to my head. Every five years or so, I get really excited.”
He’s also really excited about the fashion shifts occurring in the market. The platform heel craze has given way to a resurgence of elegant single-sole looks, Blahnik’s signature.
“Those ‘furniture’ shoes are finally over, or starting to be,” he said with satisfaction.
So is it Manolo’s moment again?
“I never had a perception about whether it’s my time or someone else’s time,” said Blahnik. “I don’t think I have a time.”
Retailers, though, seem to think so. They said that while the designer has always been a standout performer, his fall line meshes perfectly with of-the-moment trends.
Bergdorf Goodman is stocking more than 200 Manolo Blahnik SKUs for fall. “His business is very strong and continues to grow,” said Eloise Taussig, VP and DMM of women’s shoes.
Particular standouts for the season, according to Taussig, include the BB pointy-toe pump and ankle boots.
Neiman Marcus SVP and GMM Jonathan Joselove said Blahnik’s collection is “spot on” for fall.
“It offers a plethora of terribly refined shoes that will only enhance the abundant lady-chic choices throughout our ready-to-wear collections,” he said.
The designer himself is more than pleased with the direction of the collection. “The shoes are so sweet, so feminine and new,” Blahnik said.
Christine Carlton, divisional VP of accessories, footwear and jewelry at Holt Renfrew, agreed: “We’re seeing a lot of single-sole, pointy-toe pumps, which really provides a resurgence to Manolo, who’s always done single-sole shoes.”
Manolo Blahnik USA President George Malkemus echoed those sentiments.
“Women who have gone elsewhere for a few seasons have come back and are ready to buy feminine, elegant footwear again and move away from the heavier, more structured shoes,” the executive said. “We’re hearing this every single day in our stores.
Malkemus added the brand is seeing growth across its department store roster. “Saks has grown phenomenally this year,” he said.
Blahnik noted he doesn’t spend much time tracking business or following economic trends. However, on his recent trip to the U.S., he felt the mood was bettter.
“I’d rather not think too much about the future. I’m an optimistic person by nature,” he said. “Everyone in New York seemed happier.”
He also visited Savannah, Ga., where he received the Andre Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award at the Savannah College of Art & Design.
“It was heaven,” Blahnik recalled. “I love the South and southern people.”
Back at home, the designer is working on several new initiatives, including retail expansion across Europe and Asia.
In Milan, the brand will be introduced in Excelsior, a new concept store set to open next month.
And in Paris, Printemps will bow a dedicated Manolo Blahnik area on the fifth floor in January. The label also will be housed in the Maria Luisa in-store boutique on the second floor of the French retailer.
Meanwhile, in the fast-growing Middle East market, Blahnik will open a branded store this December in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
“The Middle East is an incredible, [very unique] market. We’re seeing a lot of demand there,” said Kristina Blahnik, who joined her uncle’s company in 2009 and serves as deputy managing director.
Aside from the main business, the designer also is working on several outside collaborations. He is creating a special one-off, holiday-themed shoe with London retailer Browns for the Christmas season.
And Blahnik also has partnered with British journalist Camilla Morton on her new book, “Manolo Blahnik and the Tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker,” which Blahnik illustrated. It will go on sale Nov. 1.
Looking ahead to 2012, the design veteran is preparing to celebrate his 40-year milestone. For the fall ’12 collection, he plans to dip into the archives and bring back key styles from over the years.
And in January, Pedder Group, Lane Crawford’s accessory division, is launching a one-off collaboration with Blahnik that will appear in the department store’s new retail concept called Blitz, which features projects with various designers and artists.
As part of the collaboration, the designer will unveil a set of 10 limited-edition archival shoes for Lane Crawford, and will share several black-and-white photographs from his personal archive. He also plans to curate other special items for the projct. “[Manolo’s] body of work has left an extraordinary impression on the history of footwear design,” said Judd Crane, director of special projects for Pedder Group. “He is arguably one of the most defining fashion personalities of the last 50 years.”
How does Blahnik feel about his far-reaching influence? “Young designers tell me they want to emulate me and I say, ‘Oh, god! I feel like an old man.’ It’s very flattering, but I just do what I like to do. I’ve never been into money or fame. Things just seem to happen.”
He also reflected on the huge changes that have occurred since he ventured into the footwear business in the early 1970s.
“When I started, there were hardly any [other footwear designers],” he said. “Everything is so different today.”
The royal nuptials:
“I love pomp and circumstance, and I’m very respectful of tradition, [so the wedding was nice to see]. Kate and William are great [spokespeople] for England. They are so popular, and that will help the country during troubled times. They will bring in a lot of money. It’s nice to see them grow up, but it’s kind of depressing because you realize so much time has passed. I remember William running around at Kensington Palace with his mother.”
Designing the shoes for Kate Moss’ recent wedding:
“We did them five times to get them the way she wanted. My workers are the best people. I wouldn’t be here without them. The shoes arrived the day before and there were too many jewels on the heel because of the long train. So we had women working up until midnight to change it. I’ve known Kate since she was a little girl. The wedding was divine. Kate has such a presence. You just have to feel it.”
“If they’re interesting, I’ll do them. [Maybe something with] ‘Made in America.’ I adore America, and people there used to make fantastic, beautiful shoes.”
On the music that gets him inspired:
“I was listening to Amy Winehouse last night. That girl really [had] a beautiful voice. I love listening to Arab music. And folk music really gets me going. I love Nashville and the ballads — and Loretta Lynn!”
His favorite stores:
“I don’t buy clothes very much at all. If I have to buy pants and blazers, I still go to Brooks Brothers. I go to Ralph Lauren, too. I love the saddle shoes there.”
Advice for young designers:
“Just go for it. No matter how difficult it is, fight for [what you want to do]. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
The downside of technology:
“Technology has been terrible for traditional businesses. I want to go buy a book at the bookstore and see a movie at the movie house, not download them on the Internet. Virgin Megastore has closed. There is only one HMV music store left in London. This is one of my great sadnesses. These things are being taken away from me. And email bores me. I love voices.”