For nearly 50 years, Manolo Blahnik has shod everyone from Michelle Obama to Princess Diana. The new documentary Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, traces his empire to an unlikely source: As a child in the Canary Islands, he crafted footwear for local reptiles using Cadbury chocolate wrappers. His fall capsule, timed to the film and featuring cameos from Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Rihanna, includes a sartorial nod to his hobby of old (2).
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What’s your job?
Manolo Blahnik: I’m a doodler. It was my first job as a boy, and I still do it. At night I keep a block of paper and a pencil with a huge piece of string next to me. When I have an idea, I grab the string and just doodle.
Your greatest skill?
I think I make shoes quite okay.
Keep anything sentimental in your wallet?
I found cuff links that were given to me years ago by Paloma [Picasso] from Tiffany & Co., and I just love them.
Where’s home base?
I haven’t been to my house in Bath in six months. I did the first two months of the year in Milan, and then a traveling exhibition of my work [The Art of Shoes]. Right now I’m in my lovely London.
Your favorite place to visit during the Art of Shoes tour?
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Prague (7) and Saint Petersburg. I’d been to Saint Petersburg before, but there’s been a change in people’s minds. Maybe it’s a fashionable thing, but people have returned to the churches. I went to a Russian Orthodox and a Catholic church—both of the queues, enormous!
If you could be anywhere, where would you be?
My house in the Canary Islands.
Most treasured clothing item?
My first suit that I made—acid green. It was disgusting, but I love it. It’s been mended a million times, but I still wear it.
What’s on your playlist?
Nina Simone’s (6) incredible version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” Of the young kids, I like [chants] “Work, work, work,” by Rihanna. For a man of my age, is it shameful that I enjoy it?
Do you have a Sunday morning ritual?
The Telegraph and a huge, fresh-pressed orange juice—really big. I was born in the tropics, so I need that.
How many bow ties do you own?
Too many. In America I buy millions by Ralph Lauren. I’m an old boy from an old generation, so I love those.
What piece in your wardrobe gets the most play?
My underwear! [Laughs] It sounds awful. Since I was a young man, my preference has been Zimmerli, a Swiss company that’s doing cotton boxers. They’re very comfortable.
Favorite movie quote?
“Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” from Bette Davis (3) in All About Eve. Remember that? With Marilyn Monroe, George Sanders, and Celeste Holm. And [in Stage Door] when Katharine Hepburn says, “Calla lilies.” I’m trying to get her voice. [In a sultry voice] “The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion.”
Favorite gift you’ve received?
The things my mother gave me, because she’s not here any longer. I used to be blond, and when I was young, she gave me a little lock of my hair and said, “You’re white now, and someday you’ll be white again, too.” I love that thing.
Words of wisdom?
Decades ago, I was taking pictures of Anjelica Huston, and she gave me a little tip: “Always look fresh and desirable.”
This summer, I’m rereading Nancy Mitford’s Don’t Tell Alfred (4), which is exquisite. She really understood the English at a certain period.
What’s on your bucket list?
Tonight I’m going to see Sienna Miller nude in Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It’s very shocking.
Your favorite scent?
Jasmine from southern Europe.
When did you feel as if you’d made it?
When I saw my shoes on somebody I love very much, Jerry Hall (5). She was wearing them—and I didn’t even know her!—but I stopped the car, ran out, kissed her, and said, “My God! It’s incredible seeing you.” My mother was with me and was embarrassed.
This article originally appears in the November 2017 issue of ELLE.
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