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Manolo Blahnik in the ’90s: The Designer on Touring America, Working With John Galliano and Princess Diana’s ‘Revenge Dress’ Heels

“I was working nonstop.”

That’s how Manolo Blahnik remembers the ’90s, the decade when he became a household name.

In New York, he collaborated with almost every ready-to-wear designer. The decade also marked the beginning of his thrilling U.S. tours, when women would wait hours to meet the designer. 

Back in London, Blahnik continued to hold court in his Old Church Street store — and one of his favorite clients was Princess Diana. It was there at Old Church Street where Diana, generally a flat and kitten enthusiast, bought the famous high heel pumps she wore with her “Revenge Dress” in 1994.

Below, Blahnik opens up about his close friendship with the royal, his famous friendships with Bill Blass and Isaac Mizrahi and adventures with John Galliano.

Touring America

“I know the United States so well because I traveled all the time to do personal appearances. And it was extraordinary … seeing these power women. We had queues for days and days. In San Francisco once, at Neiman Marcus, people [lined] up all around Union Square for seven hours. I find that strange, thinking about it now. But it happened to us. I miss San Francisco and the fantastic shops.”

(L-R) Kate Moss, Manolo Blahnik, and Naomi Campbell appear onstage during a Council of Fashion Designers of America event at JP Morgan Atrium in New York City on February 9, 1998.
Kate Moss, Manolo Blahnik, and Naomi Campbell appear onstage during a CFDA event in 1998.
CREDIT: WWD

Working with the NYC RTW Stars

“Oh my God, I loved to work with all of the legends. I wanted to work with Mainbocher, but alas, he was not alive. Bill Blass was my dream. He was such a gentleman with such divine taste in everything. Have you ever seen Bill Blass’ apartment? I’ve never seen such a beautiful [place]. It was much better than any house in England. The quality of the furniture was extraordinary. And he was an American boy [from Indiana]. It doesn’t matter [where you are born]. If you have it, you have it. And he did have it. And he knew what women would wear. He did two or three dresses for my sister. And Geoffrey Beene: My God, those fashion shows were insanely beautiful. At the time, all of those show-business people went to Halston, and the ladies use to go to Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta. And then, Carolina Herrera. She was becoming very, very good when she started to do dresses for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It was incredible working with them.”

The Pilgrim Shoe for Isaac Mizrahi

As their stars rose, close friends Blahnik and Mizrahi were inseparable — and they paired for several memorable catwalk collections. “I adore Isaac, he’s fantastic, and at the time he was incredible force in fashion in New York. The first time I did shoes for him, they were desert boots, and I did them in every single color out there. It was very successful.”

Blahnik’s most famous design for Mizrahi was best known as the “Pilgrim,” and first developed in 1991 when Mizrahi requested a sexy style with a pilgrim buckle. Manolo delivered the perfect slip-on silhouette.

Blahnik updated the pointed-toe, kitten-heel Maysale mule with pilgrim buckle in 2017, instantly recreating the buzz around the look. “It’s such a wonderful thing to do mules again, and now it’s the best-selling shoe of the whole summer,” Blahnik said at the time.

Diana’s ‘Revenge’ Dress and Blahnik Heels

Princess Diana, who personally shopped at Blahnik’s London boutique, might have been most comfortable in kitten heels and flats, but she could rock a high heel for the right moment. In 1994, the royal stepped out in an unforgettable outfit at the Serpentine Gallery’s summer party on the same day Prince Charles admitted his affair on national television.

Diana turned heads in an off-the-shoulder, fitted dress (which later became known as the “Revenge” dress) and Blahnik pumps. It was a huge pop culture tipping point, and the designer was well on his way to becoming a household name.

“I was fortunate to know and serve her Royal Highness. She was a joy, the most divine woman … wonderfully polite and enormously kind. She used to visit me at Old Church Street, we would close the windows and just talk while she tried on pair after pair. Usually she wore delightful little flats, but one Christmas she purchased a pair of classic black pumps. I don’t like to talk about her much as it’s still too painful – I loved her dearly.”

Princess Diana, Revenge Dress, Manolo Blahnik pumps
Princess Diana in her “Revenge Dress” and Manolo Blahnik heels in 1994.
CREDIT: AP

The Famous Louis Vuitton Shoe Trunk

“Hedi Slimane was my assistant for the project. [When I was making the piece], I thought about Doris Day movies. It was very pretty and I still have one somewhere. I gave one to my sister and one to The Princess of Wales I think. It was extraordinary work, and that boy, Hedi Slimane, was very good.”

Choose Your Own Design Adventure with John Galliano

 “The beginning of the conversation would go like this: John would say, ‘I’m doing this collection on Russian princesses running through Europe with a few things in their hands. What do you think are the shoes they would wear [if they] stopped in Berlin, stopped [somewhere else] and then arrived in Scotland? These were the kinds of ideas that John would give you. And then you would just send some drawings that you thought she would be wearing in her exhausted life, running from Russia to Scotland. Can you imagine? And these are the tricks that work for me, that make me creative — and he liked what I did. And we worked [many] years together, and then at Dior. They wanted money, money, money at the end. In 2000, I stopped. And I [look at] those Dior dresses he did now, they are totally modern, much better than anything else anybody is doing. Carolyn Murphy with those earrings, come on!”

BEST GROUP Photo by Angelo Lanza Sponsored By ITA

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