When people hear the name Manolo Blahnik, they often think of the iconic high heels immortalized by Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City (and, of course, And Just Like That). However, there’s far more to the brand’s global reputation and continuously pioneering collections. We recently sat down in Accord, New York’s INNESS to discuss the brand’s past, present and future with Kristina Blahnik, who not only serves as the maison’s CEO but is also the niece of brand founder Manolo Blahnik himself.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Manolo Blahnik menswear?
Actually, it’s a longer history than the women’s history of Manolo Blahnik because he started with menswear. He told me one of his first shoes was a shoe called the Hockney, which was a lace-up Derby with a very, very thick cream rubber crepe sole. I’ve seen pictures of it. Then he did boots in it. Then he did his first women’s shoe in crepe as well—but it was inspired from the Hockney shoe.
His attention was pulled toward womenswear because he was able to be more creative, wider; it was unboundaried. I think the boundaries of menswear tightened for a certain number of decades and they’ve widened again. I think now menswear can be anything. It can be colorful in some instances, it can be high heels, it can be lace-ups, it can be slippers, it can be ballerinas.
You have dedicated menswear stores, as well?
In 2018 we decided we wanted to open our first dedicated men’s store, next to our women’s store in Burlington Arcade in London. And that’s when we really looked at our men’s collection and our archives and really took it all apart and rebuilt it for the modern man. Then we opened stores in Japan and in Paris. But the iconic space for us is our Madison Avenue store. When we were looking for space, we were introduced to 717 Madison Avenue and I stepped back, I went to the other side of the road and said, “this building is magnificent.”
How would you say the brand has evolved since to fit the modern day consumers? Has the design or the aesthetic remained classic?
I think we’ve really carefully looked at our passions. There is an element of classic. Manolo [himself] is a very classic tailored man, but equally, he’s a classic tailored man who will wear a lavender suit. It’s about being slightly unconventional and uncompromising and sticking to what really matters, which is comfort and quality.
I think at this point now, what you want is something you can put your foot in immediately and walk out of a store or walk out of wherever you are and go, “I’m happy, I’m comfortable. I don’t need to worry about that part of my body, but if I do look down, I’m going to be happy about it.” I think our view on that is if you put a bit of color in there, which is Manolo’s passion every season, that’s where we set ourselves apart from your more traditional brands.
Where do you draw inspiration from with the bright colors and the patterns?
My uncle starts with a really intellectual base. That can be a collage, with all sorts of reference points disparate to the point where you’re going. I don’t understand the connection between them. It can be Babylon meets Gore Vidal—you can’t even bring those two things together! But he has this amazing ability to bridge two disparate elements and bring them together and create a whole new aesthetic. When I started joining the family business, I asked him, “what is your personal motto?” And he said in Italian to me “Without tradition, we are nothing.” And then his own take on it was “but with fantasy we are free.” This was a quote that he was given by Luchino Visconti in a dinner that he was at with Anna Piaggi in 1971.
I think that’s a really important point about who we are and what we always strive to be: we’re not trying to be fashion. We’re trying to be something that is relevant to the past, present and future without being transient.
We see ourselves as a timeless investment brand. I personally don’t want to acquire something for the sake of acquiring it for that moment in time and then discarding it because it wasn’t a considered choice. I want us to be able to offer something to someone that in 10, 15, 20 years time is still relevant to them and their wardrobe. We heavily invest in what we do because, as I’m a previous architect, I believe the more energy you put into something like building a cathedral that took a hundred years time, it’s more likely to be standing in a thousand years than something that took a week to build and is probably not as stable.
What would you say to somebody who is looking to get their first pair of Manolos?
I would say be curious and be ready to be challenged in terms of “can we make you smile?” Because there’s no point in getting anything ever unless it genuinely makes you smile.
It’s extraordinary in that sense that you offer so many options for so many personalities that you can choose.
What you have now is a bit of renaissance toward classicism and traditional footwear, because everyone has a lot of sneakers. But Anything goes now. You can mix anything with everything. And this is what I find really interesting because your ability to create your own identity is much wider now than it ever was. You don’t have to subscribe to the suit, tie and Oxfords.
That doesn’t exist anymore. Those rules have been rewritten because it’s more about individuality and having style. That style doesn’t require a certain set of criteria or rules.
Our best-selling colors are pink and electric blue. It’s not brown, it’s not black. It’s not gray. That is what the people that come to us are looking for.
Anything new we can expect coming up?
More color, no surprises. More places where you can find men’s shoes. More storytelling, more fun moments, because that’s really what we’re about.
Images courtesy of Brett Warren