For our annual “The Originals” issue, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. Read all of this year’s interviews here.
It’s been a big year for you! Not only did you celebrate your 50th year in business, but you opened a big new store on Madison Avenue in New York this past spring. How did you manage to pull that off in the midst of the pandemic?
Well, I haven’t really left home in two years, so I haven’t even visited my bloody store! Can you imagine how tragic? It’s been done by Zoom with the architect, who was in Paris giving orders to people in New York. It’s been quite, quite, quite exhausting! But I really like it, based on the pictures, and I hope I can visit soon. I love New York. I always feel at home there as soon as I arrive. At the airport, all the ladies in customs say, “Oh, Mr. Blaaw-nik, when you have a sale, let me know!” It’s just fantastic.
What are some of your best New York memories?
I have so many, but my favorite was visiting Rumpelmayer’s, the soda fountain on Central Park South. My friends and I would go there sometimes twice a day! Everything was so beautiful and clean, and the people would say, “Oh, hi, Manolo! How are you?” When it closed, I was devastated. I thought, This is something I will never, ever have again. There was Studio 54 and all of that, but Rumpelmayer’s was my New York. A tuna fish sandwich and three milkshakes—heaven!
In the absence of those milkshakes, how are you indulging yourself these days?
Books! I have them up to my eyeballs in all of my homes. I don’t know where to put them anymore—soon I will be buried alive! Right now I’m reading about the French Revolution, 1920s first editions in the original language. Extraordinary! And I have all the letters of Saint Teresa of Ávila, and it’s wonderful—in a very old Spanish, but I understand it. I have English things, too. About 20 Lord Byron books from the 1870s that are beautiful. And a first edition of Myra Breckinridge, by Gore Vidal—signed! Once, I met Gore Vidal. He was sweet.
Whose style do you most admire these days?
I still love girls like Shalom Harlow. They’re not so young anymore—I don’t like those new girls now. The first time I saw Shalom, I was doing the shoes for Isaac Mizrahi—this was 100 years ago—and I saw this girl coming along, skinny, with that hair! And I thought, Oh my god, who is that? And Isaac said, “Oh, it’s my new girl, Shalom!” That first impression was extraordinary—the way she moves... Not long ago, I saw a video of her dancing, and she still has it. And then, of course, the chicest woman in Europe is Amanda Harlech. She can put on a little mingy dress from Kmart, but she has divine shoes and divine hats, and that, to me, is elegance. Anything she puts on, the cheapest thing, she makes it fabulous.
Do you think elegance will make a comeback after these many months of sweatpants and sneakers?
I do. In London, people are now dressed up and going to Savile Row to have suits made. Not everyone is wearing those hideous trainers and things like that. It gives me hope that young people will go back to some kind of style. Don’t forget, as long as we are human, we will want to be decorated—for ourselves; not for other people so much. When I wake up in the morning and say, I’m going to wear happy colors today, that is for myself! You can tell immediately when a person is dressing for someone other than themselves. Ugh, you can smell it in seconds!
What are your dreams for the future?
I just want to be healthy and keep doing things. I don’t want anything else. I have everything I want, and I have wonderful memories. My life has only been full of fantastic things, actually. Or maybe there have been horrible things, but I don’t remember them. Either way, really, it’s fantastic.