King of heels Manolo Blahnik might be old school, but his collaboration with millennial superstar Rihanna is a match made in heaven.
"It's very exciting for an old boy like me to be working with a young kid like her, a very talented young kid," Blahnik says on the phone from his studio in Mayfair, London.
The 73-year-old shoemaker co-designed a capsule collection of six styles titled "Denim Desserts" with the pop diva, which arrived in stores in Hong Kong earlier this month. The aptly titled series features painstakingly crafted shoes that combine the essence of the veteran cobbler with Rihanna's street glamour.
The thigh-high boots, for example, are made for women who dare to make a fashion statement - the skin-tight boots are connected with a belt that cinches at the wearer's waistline. Apart from their extravagant silhouette, the footwear hand-finished with meticulously crafted details such as embroidery by the finest artisans from Bologna, Italy. Only 45 pairs will be made, 15 of which will be available at the Manolo boutique at Elements mall.
Rihanna has long been a Manolo fan. "Manolos are timeless," the pop queen says. "I adore Mr Blahnik. There's something pure, innocent and honest about him. When he talks about shoes, he's the most passionate [designer] I've ever met."
Blahnik's first meeting with Rihanna left him in awe too. "I don't follow celebrities, but she was so exciting," Blahnik says. "The persona she projects in [her music videos] is different from in real life. She is polite and beautifully mannered."
The creative pair hit it off immediately. However, the challenge was to create the collection as Rihanna envisioned it, in denim - a material rarely seen in previous Manolo designs.
"I haven't worn blue jeans since I was a teenager," Blahnik says, laughing. "I took on the challenge and used denim [in] the best way I could."
Known for his hands-on approach, Blahnik has been designing his shoe collections by himself for the past 45 years. The Rihanna series is one of only a handful of crossover projects throughout his career.
"I love designing shoes. I wish I had a long life because I love what I do, and every day I love it more," Blahnik says. "I'm not good at giving orders or delegating, so I just have to do it myself."
Working with Rihanna is not the only reason that Blahnik has been making headlines recently. A documentary examining Blahnik's talent is in production. Its title, Manolo (The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards), refers to the designer's first pair of shoes - he used candy wrappers to make footwear for exotic creatures on Spain's Canary Islands, where he grew up.
What propelled his childhood interest into a life-long passion and profession was Blahnik's acquaintance during the 1970s with the then-editor of American Vogue, Diana Vreeland. She encouraged the young Blahnik to concentrate on shoe design.
"I was very fortunate that [she saw] the kind of quality [in me] that I didn't know I had," he says.
Blahnik's artistic approach towards shoe designing made him an instant success. Soon after launching his brand, Blahnik was asked to design all the footwear for British designer Ossie Clark's fashion show in 1972.
"A good design is about the material, the comfort, the balance of the heel and the [curve] of the shoes," Blahnik says. "To do things well, you have to reach almost to perfection. You have to be patient. [Perfection is impossible to achieve,] but you need to try hard. I have been trying hard for 45 years."
The pinnacle of Manolo's fame has much to do with the airing of Sex and the City - HBO's romantic sitcom broadcast from 1998 to 2004 - as well as the film instalments. The image of shoe-crazy Carrie Bradshaw (a fashion-obsessed newspaper columnist played by Sarah Jessica Parker) trotting through posh upper Manhattan neighbourhoods in Manolos made the brand a household name.
"I'm grateful to Miss Parker," Blahnik says. "It was particularly exciting in terms of sales. But my career had been going on for 30 years [when the
Notoriously indifferent to fashion trends, Blahnik has stayed true to his design philosophy.
"My designs evolve when they need to," he says. "I do not compromise with fashion desires. I never follow trends. It's not my nature."
The present shoe design landscape, Blahnik says, is filled with hits and misses.
"I like designers such as Pierre Hardy," Blahnik says. "I'm not keen on alien-like or furniture shoes - designs that you wear for one season and throw away. I want [people] to keep my designs for a long time and know that they can wear them again."
Blahnik's designs have adorned the feet of some of the world's most famous women, who in turn have inspired his work as well.
In his book Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions, published last year, Blahnik cites Tina Chow, Anna Piaggi, Paloma Picasso and Brigitte Bardot as his inspirations.
"They've got something that nobody else has," he says. "I can imagine them in shoes that capture their characteristics." Blahnik says his imagination often runs wild and that the problem is not running out of ideas, but rather that he has too many ideas all the time.
"Walking down the street gives me ideas for the next collection," he says.
"I love what I do tremendously. I don't even have a life - my life is doing what I do. I wouldn't know how to relax. I hate holidays. I don't like to go to places just to stay in the sun."
With his niece Kristina taking over as CEO last year, Blahnik now has more time to delve into the pastimes he enjoys the most and also spend time with his six-year-old Labrador.
"Films and books are the joy of my life," he says, citing SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Cambridge professor of classics Mary Beard as his current inspiration.
He also likes Rihanna's latest single.
"I do listen to her music, especially the song Work, because that's exactly what we do - work, work, work," Blahnik quips.
1942 Born in Spain
1971 Meets Diana Vreeland of American Vogue
1972 Opens first London store
1981 Moves to Bath, England
1990 Wins Accessories Designer of the Year at the CFDA Fashion Awards
1998 Airing of Sex and the City makes Manolo a household name
2002 Jay-Z and Beyoncé rap about Manolos in their hit 03 Bonnie & Clyde
2007 Appointed as an honorary commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
2015 Publishes book Fleeting Gestures and Obsessions
2016 Launches e-commerce with Farfetch