Shoe designer, author and now-Liberty-collaborator Manolo Blahnik shares a glimpse behind the curtain of shoe design, collaborating with Liberty and writing a book, Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions.
What is your first memory of Liberty?
One of the first memories I have of Liberty is from when I first visited London as a teenager. I loved it straight away; the architecture, the building, the cosy warm feeling inside. Liberty does not feel like a department store, even though it is. It’s a typical English place with Heritage and history, which I love.
Why do you think Liberty is such a great fit for your book launch and for your brand?
I am generally not too fond of modern buildings, I like places with spirit. And again it does not feel like a department store, it’s inviting and peaceful. I love the architecture and interiors especially the wooden atrium inside.
What was the best part of collaborating with Liberty Fabrics?
I adore Liberty prints and I have been using them for decades. The best part was when I had the privilege of seeing the Liberty print archive with Liberty's Head Archivist, Anna Buruma. It was exquisite and very inspiring to see. There is so much there! So much choice! I felt like a child in a candy store.
Why did you choose Hesketh print?
We chose it together with the Liberty team. I love monochrome and also the sketch of the little flowers reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings which I have always loved.
Why did you decide to put your inspirations down in a book?
The book is a collation of people I adore and feel inspired by. Some of them are not with us any longer and I would like to pass on their legacy to younger people who, for example, might not know who Luchino Visconti was. I want to share my love for certain places and people all in one place. The book was a very long process and it took a lot of my time and effort but I enjoyed it tremendously, travelling and talking to people.
Where are you happiest drawing and designing?
At night, in my bed in my house in Bath. I love being there as it is such a beautiful Regency town. It’s wonderful for inspiration.
Which part of the shoe-making process is your favourite?
I have always loved most the nitty gritty part of making shoes. Being in the factories and cutting patterns, shaping lasts and heels, choosing materials for each style, adding accessories. I am very hands on and I enjoy it tremendously.
Do you remember the first shoes you ever created?
Of course! Two of my very first designs were for Ossie Clark in the early ‘70s. One was a mary jane style with a rubber sole and the other one was The Ivy in green suede with red cherries wrapping around the ankle. I will never forget it and it will forever remain one of my favourite shoes of all time.
What would you say are your main principles as a designer?
Have conviction, believe in what you do. Have your vision, stick to your guns and work hard.
What drives you to invent new shapes and shoe styles?
The joy I derive from it. I really enjoy designing new shoes and then making them come to life in the factories and seeing them on women’s feet after that.
Who are your shoe muses?
I don’t really have muses. There are women who I adore and most of them are in the new book, so you can find them all there.
The flat vs the heel: discuss
Both. There is time and place for everything. High heels are more dramatic of course, but flats can be divine also if worn with grace. It is not so easy to look elegant in flat shoes; you really have to have a lot of poise to look sophisticated in them.
Is there anything you still want to achieve with your shoe designs?
Yes, I want to keep improving, I want to come up with new ideas. There is so much still I want to do. I love experimenting with new forms and shapes, finding new materials and accessories. These are the highlights of my life.