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Imagine Fred Astaire without Ginger Rogers. Bill Gates without Paul Allen. And Manolo Blahnik without George Malkemus.
Would these iconic names have achieved so much success without the help of a powerful partner? Doubtful.
For the past 27 years, Malkemus has worked feverishly away from the limelight, helping to turn business partner Blahnik, once a fledgling designer with tiny sales in the U.S., into a $100 million empire.
Malkemus, 55, continues to spend months on the road visiting retailers and factories. He closely watches the company’s financials, strategically builds buzz with the press and works closely with the brand’s retail partners. And, as he explained, “does lots of hand holding” when the designer comes to the States twice a year.
“It’s a balance thing for us,” Blahnik told Footwear News. “George is a very good businessman. He’s patient. I am not. When it comes to money and things like that, I’m totally innocent. I don’t want to know. It’s always been my strength not to be involved in the business end. George is very constant. You can count on him. He knows what people want, what the big stores want, what the ladies of certain states want — he’s very good at those things, which I am not.”
Clearly, Blahnik is very good at other things. As he has consistently created timeless shoes for the cool-girl crowd and elegant older women, Malkemus has been the steady hand behind the U.S. business, which accounts for roughly 85 percent of the brand’s total sales.
Sure, the firm’s good fortune appears to have come pretty easily, thanks to some pivotal moments, such as starring turns in several episodes of “Sex and the City” and a scene-stealing moment in the big-screen version, but Malkemus and Blahnik never set out to become a money-making machine.
“We made a deliberate decision to grow our company very slowly,” said Malkemus, who bought the North and South American rights to Blahnik’s name in 1982, after a brief meeting when the two spoke about their love for — and ownership of — Scottish Terriers. “Neither of us were greedy. We wanted to do this at our pace and to learn the ropes as we went along. That way, the mistakes we’d make would be small mistakes rather than large ones, and that’s the philosophy we’ve always kept.”
Before he met Blahnik, Malkemus thought he wanted to be a doctor, but soon decided to pursue writing. So he left his home in San Antonio, Texas, and eventually landed a job as copy chief at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.