Isabella Blow! Anna Piaggi! Paloma Picasso! Manolo Blahnik looks back on the iconic party people in his life

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Manolo Blahnik, Paloma Picasso and Alexander Iolas  (Philippe Heurtault)
Manolo Blahnik, Paloma Picasso and Alexander Iolas (Philippe Heurtault)

Since opening his very first boutique on Chelsea’s Old Church Street in 1971, Manolo Blahnik has been the life and soul of the London party scene. This year the iconic shoe designer celebrates 50 years in the eye of the storm not with a champagne-soaked knees-up — Blahnik is allergic to wine so always plumps for straight vodka — but with a virtual exhibition which looks at the designs and friendships that have made his life and work so absolutely fabulous.

Born in the Canary Islands to a Spanish mother and a Czech father, Blahnik, 78, studied in Switzerland and Paris before settling in London at the end of 1960s. ‘In England I never felt like a foreigner,’ he says. ‘London is the best city in the world. It has everything — if you wanted to find out who you are, what you wanted to do, London had everything to offer you.’

Taken under the wing of US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, he quickly became the darling of the capital’s fashion scene, collaborating with everyone from Ossie Clark to Zandra Rhodes. ‘It was an incredible time,’ he remembers. ‘Every night was a party. The serious ones you had to have an invite, but the rest was just like, “Oh, [artist] Peter Schlesinger says there’s a party in Lulu Guinness’ house”, and everybody went.’

From Café de Paris to the Palais, Blahnik was never seen without a glamorous female friend on his arm. The Manolo Blahnik Archives: A New Way of Walking celebrates these muses and confidantes, many of whom, such as Italian fashion writer Anna Piaggi and legendary stylist and editor Isabella Blow, have since passed away. ‘All those girls remind me of something really terrible and wonderful,’ he says. ‘I’m not nostalgic, but I do miss seeing people all dressed up. You’d go to King’s Road and see the most extraordinary creatures! It was really, really incredible.’

‘Isabella Blow was like no one else’

Blahnik and Blow (Richard Young/Shutterstock)
Blahnik and Blow (Richard Young/Shutterstock)

‘She was an extraordinary woman, confident but insecure at the same time. She came to the shows, she came to the sales. There would be long queues up King’s Road and Isabella would just walk straight to the front. My god, her wedding… Jesus Christ! It was at this huge cathedral and it was raining and we had to carry her from her friend Rifat Ozbek’s house to the car. Can you imagine me carrying Isabella in her huge train with my long gold winkle-picker shoes?’

‘Paloma Picasso knew how to party’

‘The first time I met her I didn’t know who the hell she was. It was in St-Tropez and she was 15 or 16 and wearing flowers that you’d find on tombs in the South of France in her hair. I thought, “How wonderful this girl is!” I had terribly good fun with Paloma, because she was more or less the same spirit as me. We both had different parents from different cultures and she’d talk any language. When we danced, we danced like mad and when she came to London we went to every party.’

‘Tina Chow was grace personified’

Tina Chow and Manolo Blahnik (Guy Marineau)
Tina Chow and Manolo Blahnik (Guy Marineau)

‘When I first met Tina she was so striking. She was wearing some kind of a little bolero and showing a bit of a silk shirt and also wearing a long Chanel thing. She was exquisite. And the movements — I always loved the movements of women — she moved beautifully. She married Michael Chow who I knew through [the restaurateur’s first wife] Grace Coddington.’

‘Anna Piaggi set the place on fire’

Anna Piaggi and Manolo Blahnik (ES)
Anna Piaggi and Manolo Blahnik (ES)

‘Anna was like my sister. People thought she was too much, but she wasn’t. She never thought about what she was going to wear — everything was in the moment. She was shy and she projected herself through her dresses. Every day she was like a masterpiece. Once I went for dinner with Karl Lagerfeld and Anna was wearing this huge, enormous hat made of cascading bird of paradise feathers. She passed by one of the tables with candles and suddenly caught fire. She didn’t even notice! That was divine, actually. I remember just throwing a glass of water on her head, and her saying, “You’re going to ruin my dress!”’

The Manolo Blahnik Digital Archive is now accessible online here

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