Manolo Blahnik: The Shoe that Almost Killed My Career

Steve Double / Camera Press-Retna

My whole life has been a huge mistake, but what a divine mistake—doing something that I adore. I never planned on doing this as my career. I’ve made so many mistakes, it’s difficult to pinpoint one.

The first time I had a major mistake was due to my inexperience. In 1972 I was invited by Ossie Clark, one of the biggest designers on earth, to do this collection at the Royal Court Theatre in London. I made these divine, fabulous heels. I think it was my first shoe, actually. They were royal-blue suede with acid green inside, and a sole made of crepe rubber, which is beautifully white. It’s like walking on snow, but in rubber.

For the heels not to bend, they needed a steel spine inside. I didn’t realize that. So here we are. The fashion show started. Everybody in London was there. It was extraordinary to see all these models coming down the runway. I looked down and saw all the shoes going—boom, boom boom! The heels were moving around and bending. The models were moving in such a strange way. It was movements you’ve never seen before, even in the sirens of Hollywood in the ’40s. I thought, “Oh, my God, this is the end of my career definitely. Tonight, it’s finished.”

It was humiliating for me to see what happened at my first fashion show. But when it ended, people came up to me and said, “Congratulations. This is divine! Those shoes are great. It’s sexy. Blah blah blah.” I didn’t see it that way—I thought it was a horrible thing.

But people loved it. People thought, “How strange. How original.” Mr. Clark was in heaven. Even Cecil Beaton, the English photographer, said to me, “Oh, you do create some strange movements.” And indeed, it was strange. I think they liked it because of the way the girls walked, so insecure and swaying around in the bottoms.

The lesson I learned is that I became a perfectionist. I’m a real pain—the worst, actually. It’s a torture for the factories and everybody around me. Sometimes I hate a shoe in seconds. I’m very self-critical. I like to do beautiful lines, and to achieve that takes a lot of energy. I say to the people I work with in the factories, “This is not good enough! This is scratchy. This is twisted. The heel doesn’t fit well.”

I’m very painful to deal with when I create a shoe. I just ask for too much.

Interview by Ramin Setoodeh