This spring, one of the several signs that New York City was bursting back to life was a discreet notice on an empty Upper East Side storefront: MANOLO BLAHNIK OPENING SOON. For his entire half-century career, the 78-year-old, U.K.-based master shoe designer has believed in the regenerative possibilities of the city. It was Diana Vreeland, after all, who prodded the young aesthete onto his professional path during his first Stateside visit. “America has always been a home to Manolo Blahnik,” says Kristina Blahnik, the designer’s niece and the C.E.O. of this family-owned company.
Partly in tribute to the silver-screen idols whom Blahnik has revered since childhood, he decided to decorate the new U.S. headquarters in a whimsically opulent “Hollywood Regency” style, conjured up in collaboration with the interior designer David Thomas. As the landmarked town-house flagship at 717 Madison Avenue is double-fronted, its architecture suggested to them twin entryways, the northern one for the women’s boutique and the southern one for the men’s. Connected inside by an arch, the conjoined spaces have all the fanciful, prismatic vivacity of the shoes themselves—think cherry red, forest green, yolk yellow, peacock blue, plus stripes and polka dots.
It was Diana Vreeland, after all, who prodded the young aesthete onto his professional path during his first Stateside visit.
Should customers feel overwhelmed by the splendor of the shoes on display—some are elevated atop pedestals—a remedy is at hand in the gleaming brass bar, the shop’s “social area and a real focus for the entire space,” observes Kristina.
Manolo devotees may want to show up at the emporium as soon as possible in order to snag a pair of heels from the limited-edition capsule collection, available only at the Madison Avenue location. (Other Manolo Blahnik outposts can be found in London, Paris, and Geneva.) Blahnik’s favorites from the eight-style range are either festooned with faux coral—a tribute to the tastes of his mother and grandmother—or embellished with grommets, which evoke for him the refined costumes of 18th-century dressage.
Though the presence of a comprehensive men’s line—the suede oxfords alone come in 16 colors—may seem novel to New Yorkers, in fact Blahnik has, since the 70s, been a go-to cobbler for dandies, including David Hockney, Brian Ferry, and Isaac Mizrahi, who serenaded guests during the virtual opening festivities.
Most of the salon’s cushiony sales floor, however, is reserved for the brand’s American female clients. “They know what they want,” Blahnik says. “And that, I adore.”
Amy Fine Collins is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL. She is the author of The International Best-Dressed List: The Official Story