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Manolo Blahnik Talks Tuberose and Diana Vreeland

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Photos: Barry Brecheisen

On an excruciatingly cold day in February, Manolo Blahnik blew into Barneys Chicago. In a mint-green suit, red leather gloves, and a flurry of scarves, he sat down to chat with us before signing shoes for the 400 fans waiting below.

The setting: a smartly appointed greenroom where the table was set with dainty tea sandwiches and a small vase of tuberose. The tuberose made Mr. Blahnik very happy. He held up a sprig for us to inhale, and thus began our chitchat.

Manolo Blahnik: Ah, tuberose! This is tuberose! They lied to us, last week in New York. I wanted tuberose at an exhibition, and they said they could not find them. But go to Costa Rica, go to Puerto Rico! You can get them. Here they are.

Racked: You love flowers!
Well, I was born in a garden. So my life and my work— this [indicating a pair of his shoes] is kind of normal. But the best things are flower-connected. Yes, I like flowers. All my life.

When you were first starting out in design, didn't you bring Diana Vreeland some flower sketches and costume designs?
Are you kidding? How do you—where did you get that from?

Her book, D.V.
Oh my God, Mrs. Vreeland! My baby.

Do you have a favorite memory of her?
Of her? Saying things to me like: "don't think about a woman. Think about a wonderful masterpiece." Things like this—can you imagine! And she says: "Have vision, vision, vision." Things like that, all the time.

You were kindred spirits!
Oh, I was absolutely terrified when I met her.

Well, it's like meeting you.
No. No, no, no, no, no, no. I was nothing. I was introduced by a man, who used to work in her pages. Maurice Hogenbooom. He was a wonderful man, he introduced me to her, and Paloma [Picasso] also introduced me. Diana said to me immediately: Go and [someone] at Bendel's! And she would give advice. And so this was the beginning of my career, by her advice.

Do you still love costume design?
I love it. I wanted to be a costume designer. I was derailed by Mrs. Vreeland, and others. But I do work with some kind of mind that creates theatrical designs, you know. Especially now, as I get older, I am completely free with my fantasy. This year, I did a collection that's completely out of control.

Is this it? [Shoes from Blahnik's XO capsule collection were displayed in the room.]
No, this is tame. But this [indicates the blue, jeweled sandal] is a beautiful one, the jeweled one. Its kind of Theodora, Empress of Byzatine. Or something like that! [Laughs] You know what happened, I don't follow fashion.

You create it.
No. Well, some others do rip me off. But it's okay, it's okay. I'm very proud of some of the people. In England we have a wonderful girl called Charlotte Olympia who is whimsical, mad, like I used to do when I was young. I love her.

Whimsy is your trademark!
Yes. I don't like boring people who—what they do is to relate to something else that's been done before. You cannot escape life because [picks up shoe with ankle strap] around the ankle is nothing new. But you have to make it in some kind of silk, and make it new.

Where else do you find whimsy, or inspiration?
I'm a lover of movies.

Do you watch them at home, or do you go out?
To me, going to a movie theater is a great experience. But I don't have the time. I work at the factory till 9 p.m. and I don't get much sleep. So when I get to the hotel I just put in a movie. Or two or maybe three, it depends.

Do you have popcorn?
Maybe I have some room service delivered. To me, it's just like another world. When I get into a movie, I get into it. I live the movie, the movie doesn't just detain me. I live the movie.

Would you ever do a cameo in a movie?
No, but I have a friend who could. He went to a ball dressed as Mrs. Vreeland, and he was perfect. He was really perfect. I could have fainted.

What would you ask yourself? What have you not been asked 100 times?
This is a good question. I've been asked probably a million questions. But I have a mind where everything goes bop! Done it, finished. But I always wanted to do something which sounds goodie goodie. I want to do things better. I want people to behave like when I was a little child, with manners. A wonderful way of behaving. This is one of my dreams, and nobody asks about that period. "Do you miss that time?" This is what I've never been asked.
· Barneys [Official Site]
· All Manolo Blahnik coverage [Racked Chicago]