More than four decades after opening his first shop in Chelsea, the shoe master opens the doors of his second boutique at the Burlington Arcade - he tells us what's inspiring him right now
"I don’t want glasses, they’re full of bacteria and things. A bottle you know it hasn’t been touched by human hands. Because humans can be very filthy, you know," Manolo Blahnik welcomes me to his new London shop while drinking from a bottle of water, sporting a rather colourful lilac suit teamed with red slippers, his trademark round frames and warm smile.
He’s gracious, he’s funny, he’s a perfectionist, he’s an art and history lover and he “adores” many things.
Born in the Canary Islands to a Czech father and a Spanish mother, Blahnik opened his first shop in Chelsea in 1973 after designing shoes for the likes of Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes in the seventies. His shoes are renowned round the world, and this week he comes to central London to open his second shop in the capital at Mayfair’s iconic Burlington Arcade.
"It’s exciting, absolutely marvellous… It has a wonderful charm," he says.
He admits that Burlington Arcade wasn’t something he always had in mind, but that if he was to open a second shop in London, it had to be somewhere he was "mad about" and "this is the place".
"Here is a lot of my views and pages of books that I love. Burlington Arcade was always mentioned in the books from, I don’t know, the 19th Century…"
Blahnik’s niece, Kristina, who oversees the business for her uncle tells me pwith pride: “I’ve heard him saying for the last 20 years 'I wish I could have a store in the West End' and here we are, finally."
She then explains how it compares to the Chelsea shop: "First, this is central London. Our shop on Church Street is so hidden away, it's a little pilgrimage." But it is really where all the heritage began. When Carrie Bradshaw appeared in Sex and The City holding a Manolo shopping bag, which reads 'New York' and 'London', this was the one shop in the UK it made reference to. "It was his home, his living room. It's pretty much where I grew up, where my mum worked on the shop floor well into the nineties. That's our home."
The new two-floor boutique is beautiful, clean decor, white walls and, inspired by Blahnik’s home, it's adorned with Georgian columns. “In the corridor in his house in Bath he has his 'relief column' and he said 'I want this column, that’s it'," says Kristina. "This shop is just quiet and gentle, let the shoes do the talking."
And they do indeed talk for themselves. On entering the store you're instantly hypnotised by beautiful, timeless, detailed heels, elegant pointed flats, bold colours, polka-dot prints and of course, the iconic Hangisi stilettos, which Manolo admits to be "a bit OD" on them. "It’s great because they’re recognisable, but I'm copied to death in China. It's really offensive."
The iconic shoe style, made famous in the HBO series by Carrie, has a small space in the new boutique; it's his latest collection into spring/summer, which catches your eyes.
"Oh my God. I have so many rules and things," says Manolo about how he gets on designing his shoes. "I have thousands and thousands of moments that I think about something that I just immediately do it, but lately I've revamped all my memories of my favourite books…I don't know why because I always do that mentally, but this time I read them again. Since Christmas I’ve been reading all things in French… and even end up buying Egyptian stuff."
So, as he goes through the best reads of his personal library, he reveals which period of time he'd like to live in to design shoes. "Without the minginess and the dirt, I'd loved to be in the Hellenistic times."
There, he would design shoes for Helen of Troy. "It would have been divine, because imagine how beautiful she was and the reputation she had. It would have been so wonderful."
Talking about designers that would work in perfect harmony with his shoes he admits to have "so many masters" on his list. "Nowadays I have people like Galliano and young Scottish designer Thomas Tait, who I love, I adore his looks. I love his stuff tremendously."
Manolo Blahnik’s Burlington Arcade shop opens 4th February 2016.