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Manolo Blahnik is hitting the big screen with the opening of his documentary, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, on Friday.
Directed by Michael Roberts, the writer, stylist, illustrator and former fashion director of the New Yorker, the documentary tells the tale of how Blahnik went from making shoes out of candy wrappers for lizards in his family’s garden to becoming a household name, thanks to HBO’s Sex and the City, and designing luxurious red carpet-ready footwear for Hollywood’s A-list.
Roberts is a longtime friend of Blahnik, having first met the shoe designer in 1971 when Blahnik was working at fashion boutique Feathers, then in Kensington, London (it’s since moved to Knightsbridge) to pull some clothes for a magazine shoot. Now having known him for more than 40 years, Roberts tells The Hollywood Reporter that in 2013 he “realized Manolo’s life was rich enough in material to make a fascinating film.”
In the doc, the ever charming Blahnik makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be famous. Given his popularity among the many women who already buy and wear his shoes (and sometimes wait in line for him to sign them), this film has the potential to make him even more well known. So how did Roberts convince his pal to do the doc? “I first made a short teaser about his childhood spent chasing lizards, which he loved, and the film went forward from that moment on,” recalls the director. It didn’t come without some resistance from his subject though. “Manolo gradually warmed to the idea of having a movie made about his life, although he regularly frightened me by saying he shouldn’t be in it, which rather defeated the object.”
Roberts also learned even more about his pal from the process: “While filming the section on his childhood — he was raised on a banana plantation in the Canary Isles — I discovered Manolo is a keen gardener who knows the Latin names for a huge number of plants.”
The doc features interviews with Anna Wintour (who’s known to wear Manolos almost exclusively), Rihanna, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Rupert Everett, Isaac Mizrahi, Andre Leon Talley and more.
Maison Margiela creative director John Galliano also makes a cameo. According to Roberts, the designer was a “surprise appearance that was arranged in secret.” When Galliano appears onscreen with Blahnik, they share a silly banter that makes you wish you were part of their friendship, too. Adds Roberts: “Manolo was completely unaware that he would be entering the room so his squeal is one of genuine shock.”
There was one famous face Roberts wanted to include in the film, but failed to get. “I was very pleased to track down Manolo’s old friend, Bianca Jagger, and persuaded her to appear in the film,” says Roberts, before adding, “Unfortunately some idiot from production sent her a standard contract and she immediately backed out. Pity. She should have been there.”
Never one to bite his tongue, Roberts says the biggest lesson he learned from working on his first feature-length documentary is “to not to take seriously producers who say ‘We back your vision 100 percent’ and ‘We are just here to further your dream.'”
Nonetheless, Roberts’ film of Blahnik’s colorful story has come to life. As Wintour says of Blahnik in the film, “He may not recognize this, but he has become a legend.”
Manolo opens in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday.
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