MANOLO BLAHNIK is a gentleman. There's no other word for it. There's something charmingly, reassuringly old school about the way he deferentially refers to everyone as 'Mr' or 'Mrs', never using their first name. There's a gentility and elegance to his tone and manner that so many in the fast-moving world of fashion lack. But then again, the 65-year-old Mr Blahnik, as his staff call him, has never been one to indulge in the fripperies of throwaway fashion fads. 'For the past few years, what I have done has totally gone against fashion, with everyone making hideous platforms, making vile heels just because they want to be different,' he says. 'I hate that attitude.' Blahnik's style is more classic, more timeless. The ebb and flow of seasons and trends mean nothing to him in his pursuit of providing exquisite footwear for the world's most beautiful and fashion-literate women. It wasn't always like this: as a child growing up in the Canary Islands, a career at the United Nations beckoned. 'It was a complete accident that I became a shoe-maker. When I was at school my uncle was a director at the United Nations in Geneva and every summer I worked there,' he says with a theatrical sigh. 'I couldn't bear it. It was so booooring. I felt so trapped in that kind of life.' Fortunately, a meeting with fashion grande dame Diana Vreeland, the formidable former editor of Harper's Bazaar and American Vogue, changed all that. Fleeing the confines of the UN, Blahnik enveloped himself in the fervent creativity of Paris and London in the 1960s and 70s before travelling to New York to explore the possibility of becoming a set designer. A friend set up a meeting with the aforementioned uber-editor, known for her eccentricity and razor-sharp tongue. 'She was terrifying!' he laughs. 'I was dressed in a gingham suit and painful Victorian shoes that I found in Portobello Market. I looked like a tablecloth. But she looked at my sketches and stared shouting, 'Wonderful! Wonderful! Do shoes, young man! Do shoes!'' Since that meeting more than 35 years ago, Manolo Blahnik has become a byword for elegance, sophistication and peerless footwear. Not that he's giving away any secrets, though. 'My shoes are the last few shoes made by hand,' he says with a knowing smile, declining to reveal how he famously tilts the foot at such an angle that it doesn't cause pain. 'It's a technical thing, a way of cutting. I hate a heel that is too high and looks like a prostitute shoe.' 'He is a scientist as much as an artist,' says Camilla Morton, author of How to Walk in High Heels and a devoted Manolo (as his shoes are affectionately known) enthusiast. 'His shoes do that daily work out at the gym, the lipo, the tilt and the tip to give your body confidence.' Blahnik has a magpie eye when it comes to distilling cultural references and his collections draw from inspirations as diverse as the opium dens of 1920s Shanghai to Masai tribeswomen of the Serengeti. The creative process involves Blahnik conjuring up fantastical stories of exotic temptresses, Russian princesses and old gypsy queens: the catalysts who will inspire a shoe. 'Sometimes I think of a Sudanese woman, sometimes an Egyptian. Greek peasants, gypsies or Spanish dancers. It depends where my mood takes me. Then I really eat, sleep and breathe this world,' he says, becoming animated. One of his favourite creations is the Masai, a spectacular high-heeled strappy sandal that he created for John Galliano's 1997 couture collection for Christian Dior. The two designers have collaborated for 10 years. 'Working with John is a joy,' says Blahnik. 'He is the last truly exquisite designer left in the world today.' The duo share the same enthusiasm for cultural 'pick and mix'. Mention China to Blahnik and his eyes light up and his hands flutter as he articulates his love for the country. 'My deeeeaaar!' he exclaims, dragging out his vowels in his theatrical manner. 'I have plundered all of Chinese culture! There's something so exquisite, so rarefied and beautiful about it. The colours of the silks! The colours of the embroideries!' He has visited many times and is 'desperate' to return before the Olympics next year. His favourite part of the country, he says, is Beijing because of its palaces and mythology. It's an enthusiasm that has filtered into Blahnik's designs, most notably in his collaborations with Galliano at Dior. A seasoned traveller Blahnik may be, but since 1971 he has called England his home. 'It was the creativity of the place that attracted me,' he says. 'There was a mystique to it back then and an exciting mix of people.' Although he keeps a London base, Blahnik now spends the majority of his time in Bath, a sleepy spa-town in southwest England and a decidedly unglamorous retreat from the buzzing fashion capitals of Europe. 'What is striking about Manolo Blahnik is how humble he is,' says Michael Herz, head of womenswear design at British fashion institution Aquascutum, which has brought Blahnik in to work alongside Herz on its spring/summer 2007 collection. 'For someone with such a reputation, it's extraordinary that he really concentrates on making us happy,' says Herz. 'He's very open to ideas and suggestions, and it's wonderful to know that you are in safe hands.' It's the collaborative process that sparks Blahnik's creative zest, revelling in the challenge of interpreting designers' ideas and concepts. 'I'm a curious person. What I love is trying to get inside their minds and guess what they want from me.' Most recently, this curiosity has led Blahnik to London's hottest new designer Christopher Kane. 'Young people inspire me so much', says Blahnik. 'I love the spontaneity they bring, and Mr Kane has something special.' The young designer is equally enamoured to be collaborating with Blahnik. 'It's an honour and a privilege to have him on board. He's timeless. He's classic,' says Kane. 'There's a reason strong, bold women choose Manolo. Plus he's just a great, dynamic person to be around.' Of course, it's hard to interview Blahnik and not mention the S-word. That is, the show that propelled him to world-wide fame, Sex and the City. Barely an episode went by without the programme's heroine, Carrie Bradshaw - played by Sarah Jessica Parker - dropping Blahnik's name. As Carrie once declared after having her favourite pair of shoes stolen: 'They weren't shoes, they were Manolos.' The man himself lets out an apprehensive 'Yeeessss' when I broach the subject, giving the impression that he doesn't like his 35-year career being entirely defined by a television show. 'I love Mrs Parker and Mrs [Patricia] Field [the show's stylist], but I never thought it would become so big,' he says. 'Taxi drivers in the most obscure places of the planet know my name. It's strange, but I'm very grateful.' However, Carrie, he is keen to point out, is not the Blahnik woman. Instead, he looks to the more aristocratic British beauties, such as Lady Amanda Harlech, brewery heiress Daphne Guinness and socialite Lucy Ferry. The Blahnik story started with the young Manolo anxiously awaiting the latest shipment of Vogue to arrive from the mainland, so that he could revel in the fantasy of its glamorous and aspirational pages. Now it's Blahnik women look to for glamour and aspiration, not to mention daring innovation: last year he created the 'heel-less' shoe. With the foot perfectly balanced on an S-shaped spring rather than a heel, it is an ingenious alternative to the wedge. 'The best quality anyone can have is to see clearly and to have modesty about what you do,' Blahnik says. 'I never get tired or blase. I look forward to every day and remain enthusiastic.'