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High Heel

"It will never sell in London," Manolo Blahnik sighs, cradling the silk-and-fur mule. "You know. The British. Animal rights. No foxhunting. No shooting birds. It is crazy." He huffs. Looks hurt. "They won't buy this shoe, but—they'll eat rabbits and poor little animals like that." There is a giggle like the splash of water in a fountain.

Politically correct or not, there is an irresistible urge to pet this shoe; put it on a leash; take it to bed. It is a Manolo Blahnik high heel, and for more than 30 years, Blahnik has designed shoes that are the accessory to a fairy tale: Shoes made of rhinestones, feathers, sequins, buttons, bows, beads, grommets, rings, chains, ribbons, silk brocade, bits of coral, lace, fur (from farm-raised animals, he adds), alligator, ostrich—everything, perhaps, but woven unicorn forelock.

Blahnik is a rara avis himself—an exotic hummingbird. He speaks in exclamation points. He will not sit still. He jumps up from the chair in his office with walls of dove-wing gray on King's Road—a bird flushed from cover. He exclaims, enthuses—he is all flourishes, rococo gestures, exquisite manners; impossibly elegant, spotlessly groomed with silver hair combed straight back. There is the glen-plaid double-breasted suit, a purple-yellow-and-white knit tie, and—peeking out from the sleeve of a blue cotton shirt—a red crocodile band attached to a gold Swiss watch. The shoes are size 42 1⁄2 buckskin oxfords made for him at his factory in Milan. "I dress like a banker," he says when asked if the suit is custom-made. (It is.)

The story has been told before, "but"—he shrugs—"it is the only story I have." After studying art and literature in Geneva, Blahnik fell in with the fashion crowd in New York and met Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Vogue. Vreeland looked at his sketches. Do accessories—pretty little things, she said airily. And so he has. A "Manolo" is the Sex and the City shoe (in one episode Carrie realized she could have made a down payment on a New York apartment for what she spent on shoes), a generic term for a high heel, and the inspiration for Madonna's remark that his shoes are as good as sex, and "last longer."

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