Born in 1942 to a Spanish mother and a Czech father, Manolo Blahnik grew up playing amid the banana trees of La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands. When he was young, his mother convinced a local cobbler to teach her how to make her own shoes; Blahnik spent hours watching her craft them by hand out of delicate satins and brocades.
After studying law at the University of Geneva and pursuing theatrical set design in Paris, Blahnik moved to London in 1969, where he began working as a sales assistant at the boutique Feathers. The following year, he opened a shop of his own. In the spring of 1971, in collaboration with the British fashion designer Ossie Clark, he presented his first shoe collection as part of Clark’s Black Magic runway show at the Royal Court Theatre for an audience including the artists Cecil Beaton and David Hockney. His standout creation was a lace-up suede sandal crawling with verdant ivy and bright red cherries. “It was inspired by a crown of laurel leaves belonging to Alexander the Great,” says Blahnik, whose high heels would later become popular with Bianca Jagger and the Studio 54 set.
Now, for his spring collection, Blahnik is reviving the house’s archival 1971 sandal, rebranded the Ossie. (Blahnik personally names every style he makes.) The open-toed heel comes in crepe de Chine with cream-colored leaves and cerulean cherries, and there’s also a parakeet green suede version with leafy detailing wrapping around the ankle. “It reminds me of those fabulously eccentric years in London when nobody was doing anything for money,” says the 80-year-old designer, who lives between Bath and his family’s original home in the Canary Islands. “I don’t care much for flowers, but I do adore leaves and berries, which bring back old memories of playing out in the garden with my grandmother.”
Photo assistant: Christopher Linn