Manolo Blahnik in the ’80s: Glory Days in New York With Perry Ellis and the One Restaurant the Designer Visited Every Day

Manolo Blahnik’s love affair with New York began in the 1970s, but it was during the 1980s when his relationship with the city — and its defining characters — really blossomed.

As the designer began working with a host of big-name ready-to-wear designers on their show shoes, he relished his friendships with the fashion stars of the time.

“Between Perry and Isaac Mizrahi, I was introduced to a young crowd. We had the best time in New York.”

Here, through never-before-told stories and past anecdotes from the FN archives, Blahnik, in his own words, takes us on a journey through the 1980s..

Glory Days With Perry Ellis

“My darling Perry Ellis, I adored him. He was the person who really introduced me to America.”

Starting in 1980, Blahnik began designing shoes for Ellis’ captivating runway shows, which were the toast of New York fashion at the time.

“Working with him was absolute heaven, and his shows were the most beautiful. Perry was fabulous, My God he was talented. It was so exciting to go to the studio and see all of those models, those pretty boys, pretty girls. It was a beautiful time, To me, he typified America and [embodied] freedom, creativity, intelligence. We did about four seasons and it was heaven. I remember the best music was at Perry’s show — The Cars, all the fashionable bands at the time. Margaux Hemingway was fabulous. Everybody was there.”

Perry Ellis Fall 1981 Ready to Wear Advance Preview, Part 2
Perry Ellis Fall 1981: “His shows were beautiful,” Blahnik said.
CREDIT: Fairchild Archives

The Runway Scene

“I never thought about what Seventh Avenue was. Perry would say, ‘I like that shoe,’ and I would give it to him. I just did it. There was a certain kind of spontaneity.  It was not like now when everything is about money. You never thought about money that much. There was a freedom. Now you have it in the hands of big conglomerates, the musical chairs of fashion.”

An assortment of footwear from the Resort collection by designer Manolo Blahnik.
An assortment of Blahnik footwear from the Calvin Klein ’83 resort collection.
CREDIT: Fairchild Archives

The Sweet Spot

“Every afternoon I would run to Rumpelmayer’s in the St. Moritz Hotel. It was like a soda fountain from those movies in the ’40s and ’50s, and it was divine! Every day, I had to have this wonderful tuna fish salad and sweet, sweet malted milkshakes. It was the best place, and you met all of these extraordinary women, with hats and veils. It was not the fashion thing to be there, but I loved it.”

Manolo Blahnik, Isaac Mizrahi Desert Boots
A sketch of Manolo Blahnik’s desert boots for Isaac Mizrahi

A Legendary Partnership Is Born

As he started to spend more time in the states and aspired to build a business there, Blahnik got a call from Bergdorf Goodman’s then-fashion director, Dawn Mello, who encouraged him to meet George Malkemus — and during their first brief meeting, the pair bonded over their love for — and ownership of — Scottish Terriers

Their union became official in 1982, when Malkemus — who died this fall— bought the North and South American rights to Blahnik’s name.

“It’s a balance thing for us,” Blahnik said in 2009. “George is a very good businessman. He’s patient. I am not. When it comes to money and things like that, I’m totally innocent. I don’t want to know. It’s always been my strength not to be involved in the business end. George is very constant. You can count on him. He knows what people want, what the big stores want, what the ladies of certain states want — he’s very good at those things, which I am not.”

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