Manolo Muses

Blahnik opens up about the decline of the platform and his new pet projects.

with contributions from Michelle Tay
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Manolo Blahnik

Photo By Savannah School of Art & DesiGn

A fall ’11 Manolo Blahnik heel

Photo By Courtesy of Manolo Blahnik

"I have so much energy. I've been working nonstop!"

Manolo Blahnik is calling from his home in Spain's Canary Islands, where he is supposed to be winding down after a frenetic few months that included factory visits to Italy, a busy London schedule, Kate Moss' wedding and a stateside trip.

But on this Friday evening in July, Blahnik isn't relaxing. He's at the drawing table.

"Oh no, I'm not taking a holiday," the designer said. "To me, working is just pure joy, being able to design whatever comes to my head. Every five years or so, I get really excited."

He's also really excited about the fashion shifts occurring in the market. The platform heel craze has given way to a resurgence of elegant single-sole looks, Blahnik's signature.

"Those 'furniture' shoes are finally over, or starting to be," he said with satisfaction.

So is it Manolo's moment again?

"I never had a perception about whether it's my time or someone else's time," said Blahnik. "I don't think I have a time."

Retailers, though, seem to think so. They said that while the designer has always been a standout performer, his fall line meshes perfectly with of-the-moment trends.

Bergdorf Goodman is stocking more than 200 Manolo Blahnik SKUs for fall. "His business is very strong and continues to grow," said Eloise Taussig, VP and DMM of women's shoes.

Particular standouts for the season, according to Taussig, include the BB pointy-toe pump and ankle boots.

Neiman Marcus SVP and GMM Jonathan Joselove said Blahnik's collection is "spot on" for fall.

"It offers a plethora of terribly refined shoes that will only enhance the abundant lady-chic choices throughout our ready-to-wear collections," he said.

The designer himself is more than pleased with the direction of the collection. "The shoes are so sweet, so feminine and new," Blahnik said.

Christine Carlton, divisional VP of accessories, footwear and jewelry at Holt Renfrew, agreed: "We're seeing a lot of single-sole, pointy-toe pumps, which really provides a resurgence to Manolo, who's always done single-sole shoes."

Manolo Blahnik USA President George Malkemus echoed those sentiments.

"Women who have gone elsewhere for a few seasons have come back and are ready to buy feminine, elegant footwear again and move away from the heavier, more structured shoes," the executive said. "We're hearing this every single day in our stores.

Malkemus added the brand is seeing growth across its department store roster. "Saks has grown phenomenally this year," he said.

Blahnik noted he doesn't spend much time tracking business or following economic trends. However, on his recent trip to the U.S., he felt the mood was bettter.

"I'd rather not think too much about the future. I'm an optimistic person by nature," he said. "Everyone in New York seemed happier."

He also visited Savannah, Ga., where he received the Andre Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award at the Savannah College of Art & Design.

"It was heaven," Blahnik recalled. "I love the South and southern people."

Back at home, the designer is working on several new initiatives, including retail expansion across Europe and Asia.

In Milan, the brand will be introduced in Excelsior, a new concept store set to open next month.

And in Paris, Printemps will bow a dedicated Manolo Blahnik area on the fifth floor in January. The label also will be housed in the Maria Luisa in-store boutique on the second floor of the French retailer.

Meanwhile, in the fast-growing Middle East market, Blahnik will open a branded store this December in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

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