Manolo Blahnik on the '70s: A Big Debut, Nonstop Parties in London, and the Truth About Studio 54

Manolo Blahnik on the '70s: A Big Debut, Nonstop Parties in London, and the Truth About Studio 54.

Tags : Manolo Blahnik on the '70s: A Big Debut, Nonstop Parties in London, and the Truth About Studio 54, Manolo Blahnik on the '70s: A Big Debut, Nonstop Parties in London, and the Truth About Studio 54

This was a wonderful London life said Manolo Blahnik, here in 1979.

"Everyone agrees that this milestone is quite exceptional. It seems like 50 days or months ago. Even in bad times, I've had a divine time. 50 years is a lie to me."

The 78-year-old shoe legend is zooming in from Bath, England, and he is feeling particularly energetic after getting his coronavirus booster shot on this late October day.

Blahnik, who is masked up and working alongside eagle-eyed house historian Jamie Prieto, is clearly frustrated by having to speak into a computer screen.

Since in-person visits haven't been possible due to "this terrible disease," the charismatic designer has spent nearly two years working online. "It's so rewarding to talk to them; they know how I cut, they know how I put the colors together." They are my best friends. They're artisans, and I adore them. My factory is my happy place. I could be there I have been there from 8 in the morning until midnight many times, he said.

Although he is eager to get back to Italy, Blahnik said he's learning to adapt to uncertain times and enjoys his solitude. My visit to the place where I got the vaccine was very strange. I feel comfortable being alone. However, I have learned to be patient and more tolerant. Today alone, I had a fight, but anyway!

In an instant, Blahnik is transported back to 1970s London when he sees the black-and-white photos scrolling on the screen. As he recounts his adventures as an emerging talent and man about town, he remarks, The '70s are much more clear than the '80s.

Ah! That's me in Bath in 1979.

I see a picture of Paloma [Picasso] looking very young and me without glasses.

The one on the left is from [my first store] on Old Church Street. That was it. There was nothing in the shop.

The conversation took off from there. Throughout the next hour and 20 minutes, Blahnik told stories of hilarious antics, exhilarating friendships, unforgettable runway shows, and, above all, masterful shoes.    

Using stories and anecdotes from the FN archives, Blahnik takes us on an incredible journey through the decades using his own words. Let's start with the 1970s.

After a Fateful Meeting, The Big Debut    

"This concept of shoes was new to me. It happened by accident."

In the late 1960s, a young, curious Blahnik studied international law and interned at the United Nations in Geneva before moving to Paris to study art and set design. Soon, he was immersed in the city's cultural scene and surrounding himself with an eclectic group of friends.
But he had no real plan for his future.

Suddenly, everything changed. Paloma Picasso introduced legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland to Blahnik during a trip to New York in 1970. “Before our first meeting, I was absolutely terrified because I knew she was such a legend and such an authority on fashion. But without her, I simply would not be where I am now. "I remember she used to wear these amazing fake python boots that I thought were divine," he recalled.

A year after seeing Manolo's sketches for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Vreeland said to Blahnik, "Make shoes." That was the push Blahnik needed - and one year later, he left London to start his own company.

On the Runway at Ossie Clark

Already well connected, the designer developed his inaugural collection in 1971 — called Quorum Black Magic — for the most prominent British fashion designer of the time, Ossie Clark. “It was very successful because everybody who was somebody in London was at the show at Royal Court Theatre: [painter] David Hockney, [photographer] Eric Boman and [designer and photographer] Cecil Beaton,” Blahnik remembered.

His show-stopping ankle-tie platform with a chunky high heel got everyone talking. There was just one problem: The designer, who had no formal shoe training, had forgotten to secure the rubber heel with steel. “At the end of the show, Cecil said, ‘Oh my dear, this is a new way of walking.’ The girls walked very strange, like insects.”

Old Church Street

“A friend of mine called Peter Young found the place. He was great, and [went on] to win Oscars for ‘Batman’ and all these movies. He said, ‘There is a wonderful place, and it is outside of everything and there are no shops on the street, only a pastry shop. I loved it and I took it, not thinking that I didn’t have any people, customers, nothing. We would have friends come in the afternoon and have tea and cakes from the shop next door. There used to be a wonderful girl, Amanda Grieve, who came in all the time. Later on, she  was Amanda [Harlech] and became important. All the girls came in … and this is [when] I became known a little bit.”

His Daily Routine

“I don’t even know how I managed to survive. I used to live in Notting Hill and cross the park on a bike. Can you imagine? I would come to the shop every day. We used to open at 10 o’ clock. I ate some cookies at the pastry shop and then we would call Italy and get the shoes done.”

Living His Best Life in London

“I used to go to parties all the time. You know, London was very kind of open to everybody. English people know when you love them and they love you, and so it was like that for me. I met all of these incredible people — [antique dealer and interior designer] Christopher Gibbs and [society favorites] Ida Ingwood and John Becque. Well, I met John in French school, but anyway that doesn’t matter. But with all these friends, I was very happy. And at the time those people were just normal people, they were not celebrities or anything at all. This was a wonderful London life, eccentric. It was nothing like nowadays.”

A New Love for Old Hollywood

When he wasn’t partying, Blahnik spent his evenings at the British Film Institute with his girlfriends. He was mesmerized by 1930s Will Rogers cowboy flicks, Gary Cooper’s silent movies and Kay Francis films. “My education was those movies during those 10 years in the ’70s.”

Inside the Infamous Studio 54

“I used to go down there and dance with AndrĂ© [Leon Talley] and Paloma. But there were too many drugs and too many people. I never liked that gay movement at the time in New York. It was exaggerated, and I didn’t really feel much part of it. Of course, I was very prettily dressed, wearing my gingham suit, and — I don’t know — a hat or something, and they said ‘You come in.’”

Manolo Blahnik on the '70s: A Big Debut, Nonstop Parties in London, and the Truth About Studio 54.

Tags : Manolo Blahnik on the '70s: A Big Debut, Nonstop Parties in London, and the Truth About Studio 54, Manolo Blahnik on the '70s: A Big Debut, Nonstop Parties in London, and the Truth About Studio 54

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