Manolo Blahnik: historic Mediterranean

The shoe designer Manolo Blahnik has had an illustrious career ever since the then editor-in-chief of American Vogue, Diana Vreeland, on seeing his portfolio of designs for fashion and stage sets in 1969 in New York exhorted him: ‘Young man, make things, make accessories, make shoes.’ These days, Blahnik likes to live in Bath and runs his burgeoning shoemaking business from London; there are now more than 300 Manolo Blahnik points of sale worldwide in the great cities of the world, including London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong. But given the choice, the shoemaker would always head to the Med, he tells us

My special place is the Mediterranean – I’m mad about Delphi and the Acropolis of Lindos in Rhodes. I’d go back again tomorrow given the chance. So that’s my tip.

I am totally possessed by Hellenistic culture and Roman culture. Whether it’s in the Mediterranean, or the traces of the Romans in Africa, wherever you find Greek or Roman culture, that’s what I love. 

In Lindos on the island of Rhodes in Greece, there is an extraordinary acropolis, a large temple on a huge precipice; it looks like the land just falls off. Then on the top of this cliff are monumental Greek columns, the remains of the pavilion of the temple, and the propylaeum – the structure of the entrance. You see it from down below, a huge, monumental gateway to the temple, which really is one of the most beautiful in the world.

I first went to Lindos in the 1970s and it still captivates. I imagine that this temple is something like the ones in Syria at Palmyra that were destroyed so tragically – I have this incredible desire to see those, but that is now an impossible dream. Then there is the Delphi temple on Mount Parnassus in Greece. There is a statue – the Charioteer of Delphi – that was found there and has the most beautiful feet. I took pictures of them when I first saw the figure, for inspiration. It’s on display in the Delphi Archaeological Museum. A marvellous thing.

What I love about Greek and Roman culture is the proportion. There is an elegance here that is all the more extraordinary as we are talking about centuries and centuries ago. I really adore it. But then maybe I am, too, Romantic like Byron. I recall his lines from his poem The Isles of Greece:

Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die.

[Sunium is Cape Sounion, not far from Athens, home of the Temple of Poseidon.]

I remember those words all the time – yes, let me sing and die! There is so much baggage behind this kind of beauty. Every single column, every single marble statue, is bathed in it. I was once in Athens and fortunate to have a special tour. The minister of culture took me to see the beautiful statues underground at the Acropolis Museum. 

But the Mediterranean always provides this kind of beauty – in Nîmes, in France; even in Capri, in Italy, where people go to sit in cafés. Instead I go up to the Tiberian Villa of Jupiter – there’s so much excitement; it’s the elixir de Capri. Palermo in Sicily is another madness – it means so much. When I was young and growing up, I read Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), which is set in Sicily. That was perhaps the beginning of my story with the Mediterranean. Four years ago I ended up being invited by friends to stay in Sicily’s Taormina. I stayed at the old San Domenico Palace for one month, which was beautiful. I have so many friends in the area – one lives in Noto, and my old friend Michael Roberts [the photographer] lives in Taormina. The Mediterranean for me truly is the magic land. 


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