Fashion: High heels and desire: The stiletto is back. Manolo Blahnik has never been away. Here, some of his starry fans explain why

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The Independent Culture
TO THOSE with fine feet, spindly shoes have never gone out of style. But now, as glamour returns to fashion, the high heel, too, is tapping back to centre stage. The look to go with satin pants-suits and slicked-back hair is for arched, curvy, sexy feet. And Manolo Blahnik is the master.

When American Francophile Joan Juliet Buck bagged the top job of editor of French Vogue, she went on a shopping spree to Manolo, joined by her best friend, Anjelica Huston. Hollywood stars go Manolo-mad before the Oscars, fashion designers are on a hot line to his tiny London HQ before the international fashion shows. Mere mortals save and save and save to buy their first pair.

Manolo Blahnik (the extraordinary name comes from a Spanish mother and a Czechoslovakian father) arrived in England in the Seventies. He was followed a decade later by his awesomely elegant sister, Evangeline, who says she's 'just the little shop girl', but in fact runs his business with an iron hand (while wearing the most ravishing shoes, of course).

'Manolo always loved to do shoes as a little child, even for all the animals in the house,' recalls Evangeline. Animals? 'Especially a little monkey. Manolo was always an extravagant boy.'

Manolo, tell me why. 'Frankly my dear, I don't know. It was accident. I was in New York and I met Mrs Vreeland, then Grace (Coddington, now fashion director of American Vogue) and Anna Piaggi (the extraordinarily dressed creative director of Italian Vogue). It was the happiest accident you see.'

Indeed. What people did see, back in the disco fever of the Seventies, was Bianca Jagger, queen of the jet set, as she danced through the decade in fabulous rhinestone strappy sandals by Manolo. And what we have seen since is Paloma Picasso, Sandra Bernhard, Lauren Hutton, Jerry Hall, Elle Macpherson . . . all wearing their Manolos. The designers love them too: John Galliano, Bill Blass, Todd Oldham, Isaac Mizrahi, young Brit Alexander McQueen and the latest star graduate from Central Saint Martin's, Antonio Berardi, have all commissioned shoes from Manolo for their shows. These are not sensible shoes, and yet they last. Soles are restitched, heels replaced, so they go on being divine for years. But some take the task of preserving their Manolos a little further. The designer Liza Bruce, who has been a devotee since her teens, often goes barefoot over rough terrain, cradling her satin slippers in her hands.

So what is it with Manolo Blahnik? As the owner of a few more pairs of Manolos than I'd care to count, I thought I'd ask around. So the Manolo questionnaire was born - although not quite so deep as the Proustian one, it is perhaps as revealing.

Q When did you buy your first pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes?

With the money I received from my Granny for my Holy Communion.

John Galliano,

British fashion designer

On day one] They had very high heels with a wedge and were made out of a wonderful black fabric with colourful specks of bright colours. I loved the bow over my toes and the ankle bracelet. They weren't very stable and killed my feet but what style]

Paloma Picasso

I bought from an English Vogue shoot, when I was modelling.

Jerry Hall

I think it was in London, when he first opened his chic shop. I think they were a perfect black leather, high-heel pump.

Polly Allen Mellen,

creative director, 'Allure'

I bought my first pair aged 16 in the sale for pounds 10.

Bella Freud, British fashion designer

1971.

Joan Juliet Buck,

editor, French Vogue

I was 16. Back then, the shop was called Zapata, and the interior consisted of Astroturf and deck chairs. Sadly, this first pair was stolen in Mexico.

Liza Bruce, fashion designer

About five years ago with one of my first real pay-checks I went and bought half a dozen.

Elle Macpherson, model

I still have my first pair. Isabelle Adjani gave them to me eight years ago. I try not to walk past his store now or I'd fall down the well.

Lauren Hutton

Q What was that first pair like?

Tweed and leather, with ankle strap, 12cm-high heel, a very stiff and thick heel, no stiletto]

Anna Piaggi,

creative director, Italian 'Vogue'

A pair of black patent spats with red tartan. Approximately three sizes too small but ultimately worth the pain.

Joe McKenna, stylist

Red snakeskin high-heeled pumps.

Joan Juliet Buck

Green and red suede lace-ups with bronze studs.

Bella Freud

Navy flat with red piping, very pancake.

Candy Pratts Price,

fashion director, US 'Vogue'

Gold strappy high-heeled sandals.

Jerry Hall

Strappy with killer heels.

John Galliano

I saw my first pair of Manolos on Manolo on Fire Island. I had arrived with what I thought was the ultimate summer wardrobe; a custom-made Geoffrey Beene wool/mohair blanket which I wrapped myself in like an American Indian. Manolo upstaged me with an entire wardrobe of silk crepe-de-chine shirts from Yves Saint Laurent and linen Oxford shoes dyed, tone-on-tone, to cerulean blue, eau de nil, ink, heliotrope. We used to walk through that sex hell-hole, the meat rack at high noon where men were having sex with other men in public. We were both overdressed.

Andre Leon Talley,

creative director, US 'Vogue'

Q What was your favourite pair ever?

The pair I remember best from the beginning had petals like a flower and leaves. There are the pumps with pearls, which I love, and little flat shoes. I'm not very good in high heels, I'm not very steady. I'm rather more the person who wears flat shoes that are very practical.

Bianca Jagger

A pair of black high-heeled pumps with a cut in the front that reminded me of the windows of the Doge's Palace in Venice. His new metal high heel is a masterpiece.

Paloma Picasso

All of them] Honestly. The very special ones, like my diamond-buckled black velvet boots are obviously attention-getters. I dress around them and only share them with a special crowd.

Polly Allen Mellen

The very favourite is always the last one he does - right now the neon patent pumps, but then last month it was the nude pump. He is my favourite]

Candy Pratts Price

I think my favourites are the little slice of mules he once made especially for Diana Vreeland. I had to deliver them with a special order of Stilton cheese to her New York flat. She loved them.

Andre Leon Talley

I have favourites I wear and others I have never worn and that I'm saving until I'm 85] My current favourites are two pairs of black satin mules with bows and buckles which are now beautifully distressed from having worn them on my bike, in puddles and in fields. I have other pairs, like the pale dusty pink pair with seed pearls that I have never worn, that I leave lying around the house gathering dust.

Liza Bruce

The pair he has yet to make. Manolo's talent is rooted in the future, not the past.

Michael Roberts,

photographer, stylist at large

Gold lizard-skin and pearl and crystal embroidered paisley oriental slipper mules he made for my Spring/

Summer '86 collection.

Rifat Ozbek, fashion designer

It's hard to say, either the classic mule or a trashy pair of white high patent-leather with studs.

Elle Macpherson

Black and white stripes, open-toe, wide laced band, like a small boot, around the ankle (above). And they were called Piaggi]

Anna Piaggi

Q Have you had any adventures or heard of any adventures had in Manolo's shoes?

Need you ask?

Sandra Bernhard, comedienne

I guess my whole life is an adventure I lead in Manolo's shoes - and I can even confirm to you that I am never without my Manolo shoes in my dreams.

Paloma Picasso

Four pairs of silver ankle-strap evening shoes were picked up from the studio by bogus messenger service claiming to be from Vogue. Result: one very well-shod black drag queen is circulating Manhattan.

Joe McKenna

The best adventure was Isabella Blow's wedding shoes of silver, with the toebox, pointed and probably about 12 centimetres long. I remember the most wondeeeeerful gesture of Manolo, picking Isabella up

in her Lady Diana Cooper medieval gown and headdress, and walking with the bride in his arms, through the cow dung.

Andre Leon Talley

I do recall hearing of Isabella Blow haggling at a market in Delhi in monsoon rain while sporting electric-blue satin Manolo mules.

Philip Treacy, milliner

Walking the street in your Manolo Blahniks is always an adventure and experience. You just feel and look sexy, classy, and pulled-together]

On a personal note? Well yes, I . . . I can go no further.

Candy Pratts Price

I have taken them on adventures when photographing them for his

advertising. To Sicily, where they were arranged on the heads of appreciative Sicilians, to Suffolk woods, where creatures in horns and bodypaint fawned over them, to California where naked men caressed them on a rock.

Michael Roberts,

Too numerous to mention.

Jerry Hall

I never have adventures in shoes.

Joan Juliet Buck

Q Have you ever been on a Manolo spending spree? Describe please]

Yes, many times, much to my husband's chagrin. However, when I wear my Manolo's he always says how great they make me look] Also, I don't think I have ever gone to his shop and bought only one pair.

Polly Allen Mellen

Yes, this summer . . . four new pairs. Silver strappy clear heel, beige mules, black patent strappy, beige strappy.

Elle Macpherson

Q What makes them de rigueur for fashion shows and shoots?

Because they're sexually explicit.

Rifat Ozbek

For my first collection, fall 1988, Manolo did a 'hush puppy' for me. Like a desert boot on a crepe sole. It had all the elegance of Manolo and all the sport of a sneaker. I showed them with everything from sweatsuits to ballgowns.

Isaac Mizrahi,

American fashion designer

Upredictable supermodels and actresses are instantly easier to work with when put in Manolo Blahnik's shoes.

Joe McKenna

I love Manolo and his magic shoes. I am honoured to have had them on my runway]

Todd Oldham,

American fashion designer

He has an acute understanding of women's legs and feet.

John Galliano

Certainly his shoes are the greatest. We have a whole retrospective of his shoes through the years and often bring back vintage ones to show with a current dress. He is such a genius.

Bill Blass,

American fashion designer

Q Do you buy them as Christmas presents for your friends?

There is something mythical about his creations. You know of course that some people buy them just to look at them. So they make quite interesting Christmas presents.

Paloma Picasso

Not often but I should.

Elle Macpherson

When possible.

Anna Piaggi

I used to buy them for my grandmother. I tend to order men's slippers for myself, just to wear at Chateau Lafite, the country house of Beatrice and Eric de Rothschild. I have pairs custom-made just to walk down the staircase in, slide across the 19th-century carpets to the dining- room, and back up the steps. These special Blahniks never see the light of day, or city sidewalks.

Andre Leon Talley

My daughter grew up longing for Manolo shoes, but for some things you must wait . . . except Manolo gave her pairs before she was allowed to have them.

Bianca Jagger

Q Does it make a difference to be shod by Manolo at a glittering event? Can confidence come from the feet up?

I have always believed that your shoes really yell who you are and you cannot but have the best shoes whether you are wearing second- hand clothes or couture. I would rather be seen barefoot.

Paloma Picasso

Absolutely. It all begins with a sexy high arch and he gives you one even if you are a flatfoot.

Sandra Bernhard

Absolutely.

Elle Macpherson

Yes, particularly high heels.

Anna Piaggi

Q So why are Manolo's shoes so desirable?

They are heart-lurchingly beautiful and make you feel instantly that you've been wanting them for ages. They are always very flattering and make the fattest leg look slender.

Bella Freud

They are strappy, sexy as hell. The shoe itself looks like a woman.

Sandra Bernhard

They are simply the best.

Anjelica Huston

Manolo's shoes make supermodels' bunions and blisters look more attractive.

Joe McKenna

Their quality and humour. They are always up to date.

Lady Weinberg, aka British couturier

and hotelier Anouska Hempel

They're so beautifully made and so elegant.

Jerry Hall

He's the best in the world and he makes the most elegant shapes.

Philip Treacy

Men love them.

Elle Macpherson

Manolo's shoes are beautiful objects, not just shoes. The difference between a shoemaker and Manolo is that he is a true artist and one of the last dandies of this century. His sense of beauty, his aesthetics go way

beyond shoes. My mother believed you could tell a person from their shoes. Manolo always fitted that idea, even if you were wearing the most simple dress.

Bianca Jagger

Indolent romanticism, lush exotica, and of course, a very important ingredient . . . sexual allure. Women cross their legs in his stiletto heels and

suddenly the power suit is complete.

I remember Anna Wintour in 1985, then the editor of English Vogue, trekking around the cobblestones of London in navy, square-throated, vampy reptile-skin stilettos. They somehow helped to give her an

awesome power look that was new. What the Hermes or Kelly is to handbags, the Blahnik stiletto or mule is

to the foot.

Andre Leon Talley

You say everyone says good things] Huh, you haven't talked to my manufacturers. Bang bang bang. I am always such a perfectionist. No one will work for me]

Manolo Blahnik

Manolo Blahnik shoes are available from 49-50 Old Church Street, London SW3; from Joseph, 14 Avenue Montaigne, Paris, and 15 West 55th Street, New York. Prices start at pounds 120 and go up to pounds 900.

(Photograph omitted)

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