If you kick up your heels and heat uptown, at 717 Madison Avenue you’ll find Manolo Blahnik’s new howm away frome home. And, be warned, there’s a good chance you;ll come away from this show – lover’s Land of Oz thinking that there’s no place like it in the Big Apple.
For starters, the boutique (located in a 1923 landmark building) has two individual contiguous storefronts; one leads into a room containing the women’s collection, the other to the men’s. Connected internally, each space has a distinct decor: Marble and plaster in a classical vein for her; blue lacquer for him, as well as a brass – topped bar bar intended for all clients. Shoe shopping and smoothies sound like a winning combination. ‘I created someplace that tou could be relaxed‘, said Blahnik, who is mad about architecture and designed the new space with Kristina Blahnik, his niece and company CEO, who is trained in the field; and the interior decorator David Thomas who is responsible for the look of the brand’s Palais Royale shop in Paris.
Though there are daunting aspects to opening a boutique at the tail – end of the pandemic, they dim in comparison to Blahnik’s excitement. ‘I’m so terrified about opening a shop again in New York. I don’t know if this is the right time – but yes! The other night I had a revelation, I said. ‘Why not? People are just desperate now to get excited again, and buy. But a different kind of buying, buying things that they think would be necessary, [that are] really well made [that] are going to last..Maybe my dream was totally weong, but I don’t think so’.
After 50 years in the business, Blahnik knows how to read his customers; he hopes that in the new store they’ll discover ‘a certain part of my personality that they don’t know’. Exclusive to the Madison Avenue space will be a small capsule collection, called 717, that is sure to count among the city;s chicest souvenirs. The designer plans the same kind of program for his London boutique. ‘That’s the only way that I keep my integrity, my soul’, he comments, ‘because I want to do small things, concentrate on quality and lasting things because there’s too much stuff to be able to see anymore’.
The new collection for fall is a head – turning one despite the extraordinary circumstances under which it was made. ‘Sometimes it was as if my head was going to explode, but I did the collection…and it’s some of [the] best studd that I’ve done – things without restraint, completelt’, Blanik says. ‘I never change very much, I do not follow fashion at all, but somehow I do explode sometimes in the sense of like, why not? And this time I [designed’ in that way’. The maximalist approach he took was a response of the restrictions of lockdown. The shoemaker predicts a return to pleasure – seeking and sensuality – ‘because fashion is sensual in any case’.
In 2021, some of the modes of living that were in place when the Spaniard first visited the city in 1974 have been revived, most prominently in regards to perception of gender fluidity. ‘I don;t have any kind of boundaries between women and men…because I grew up in the ’70s and, you know, everything was like, ‘Who cares?’ I mean, everybody was wearing whatever they wanted to wear’. In London Blahnik’s doing well with men’s styles featuring baroque embroideries, and is expecting they’ll have traction in New York with the emergence of what he calls ‘the peacock men’ who want to be well attired. ‘They buy things like tunics again, I don’t believe it!’ the designer exclaims.
What he does believe in, firmly, is the city. ‘New York had been so divine with me’, notes Blahnik, and the store is a way of showing support in return. He first became acquainted with the town in the heady 1970s, then he mingled with Perry Ellis and Diana Vreeland, as well as the Andy Warhol and Halston crowds. Blahnik saw the inside of Studio 54 more than once. ‘America – especially in New York – is a place of possibilities that you never expect to be able to create somewhere else’, the designer notes. ‘New York is a modern city, and it always will be’.