George Malkemus, Who Pushed Manolos to New Heights, Dies at 67

George Malkemus, the steady, sunny Texan who helped turn the designs of an eccentric shoe designer named Manolo Blahnik into a global empire, and then attempted the same business alchemy with the actress Sarah Jessica Parker for her own shoe brand, died on Sept. 16 at his home in Manhattan. He was 67.

The cause was cancer, said Anthony Yurgaitis, his husband and business partner.

Long before “Manolos” were pop culture shorthand for a certain kind of feminine excess and a prop and leitmotif on “Sex and the City,” the HBO series starring Ms. Parker, these delicate, spindly heeled confections were a luxury item known only to fashion insiders and members of the chattering classes.

The stilettos were so well engineered, devotees claimed, you could sprint in them. Princess Diana wore them, as did Paloma Picasso, Anjelica Huston, the designer Carolina Herrera and virtually the entire staff of Vogue magazine. Women ordered them by the dozens each season and built closets dedicated to housing them.

The company began in the early 1970s in a London boutique frequented by Bianca Jagger and other rock star adjacents. It was presided over, salon-style, by the exuberant Mr. Blahnik. (As a child in the Canary Islands, he had made shoes for his dogs and silver foil tutus for the lizards he caught.) A Manhattan store, opened in 1981, was an afterthought and losing money when Dawn Mello, then the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, the New York department store, introduced Mr. Malkemus, one of her copy writers, to Mr. Blahnik.

“George, your best ideas are about shoes,” she told him, as the fashion historian Amy Fine Collins reported in Vanity Fair in 1995. “You must meet Manolo Blahnik. He has a boutique on Madison Avenue that is falling apart. Maybe you can do something.”

Mr. Blahnik was indifferent at first but agreed to a deal when he learned that he and Mr. Malkemus (pronounced MAL-keh-mus) and Mr. Yurgaitis all had the same breed of dog: Scottish terrier. (Mr. Blahnik had four.) In the deal, Mr. Malkemus became head of Manolo Blahnik USA, and in 1983 he opened a new Manhattan boutique, on East 55th Street.

If the London store was a glittering scene, the Manhattan boutique was more like a rarefied mom and pop store, as Ms. Collins put it. The same salespeople greeted regulars like Ms. Collins for decades while Mr. Malkemus fine tuned the business.

“Manolo is a solitary artist, a polyglot, an encyclopedic, eccentric genius,” Ms. Collins said in a phone interview. “George was the counterpart who had his feet on the ground and turned this prodigy into an empire. George got it done.”

The New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn called the pair “the Felix Unger and Oscar Madison of the fashion world.”

“Mr. Malkemus, a Texan, is somewhat reserved and boyish-looking,” she wrote, “and Mr. Blahnik is usually shooting off in one direction or another.”

Mr. Malkemus courted retailers like Neiman Marcus and Barneys as well as fashion designers, encouraging them to use Mr. Blahnik’s shoes in their shows. He entertained at Michael’s, the media business canteen on West 55th Street, where he had a regular table (No. 7). Beginning in the early ’90s, he could often be seen lunching with Anna Wintour, the longtime Vogue editor who is now chief global content officer at Condé Nast, and André Leon Talley, Vogue’s larger than life editor at large at the time.

In an email, Ms. Wintour said, “George Malkemus was one of the fashion world’s great life enhancers, an elegant and gregarious man who always seemed to me to be in a buoyant mood.”

Business soared again when, in an episode of season three of “Sex and the City,” Ms. Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw, a freelance writer with a taste for expensive clothes and unavailable men, declared that she had had a religious experience in the Manolo Blahnik store.

It was perhaps inevitable, after the reruns, the prequel and the movie versions of the show, that Ms. Parker would somehow be involved with a shoe company. Her SJP line began in 2014, and Mr. Malkemus became her partner.

Ms. Parker met Mr. Malkemus in the early ’80s; she was a young actress working in Los Angeles, and he and Mr. Blahnik were in town for a trunk show.

“I didn’t have a great deal of money,” she said in an interview, “but I bought a lot of shoes, though I wasn’t in a position to do so. I was enchanted when a few months later they arrived and Manolo had signed them. In my estimation and Pat’s estimation” — Patricia Field, the costume designer for “Sex and the City” — “Manolos were ‘the’ shoe, and when we started doing the show, we came to George.”

George Dewey Malkemus 3rd was born on Feb. 23, 1954, in San Antonio, Texas. His parents, George Jr. and Dorothy (Hesskew) Malkemus, were federal employees. The younger Mr. George attended Baylor University in Waco as a pre-med student for a few years before moving to New York City in the late 1970s. He met Mr. Yurgaitis, then a model, while working as a salesman at Paul Stuart, the men’s store. They married in 2013.

In addition to Mr. Yurgaitis, Mr. Malkemus is survived by his father; a sister, Cynthia Malkemus Green; and two brothers, Perry and Mark.

Mr. Blahnik and Mr. Malkemus ended their partnership in 2019. In statement reported by Women’s Wear Daily, Mr. Malkemus said that Mr. Blahnik’s niece, who was running the Blahnik business, had “offered unacceptable terms” and that he and Mr. Yurgaitis had declined to renew their license of 37 years.

He soon shuttered the townhouse, on East 54th Street, that they had subsequently bought in the late 1990s to house the boutique. Last year, he reopened it as the Manhattan flagship for Ms. Parker’s brand. She and Mr. Malkemus were the designers, and the shoes — though feminine, pretty and often sparkly — don’t look like Blahnik-manques.

Shoes were not the only enterprise that Mr. Malkemus oversaw. In the late ’90s, he and Mr. Yurgaitis bought a farm across the street from a house they owned in Litchfield County, Conn. They began breeding Holstein, Brown Swiss and Jersey cows and opened Arethusa Farm, a high-tech dairy operation in which the cows were washed daily (their tails conditioned with Pantene).

The couple sold milk, ice cream and butter out of their own creamery five miles away in the town of Bantam and to high-end groceries like Whole Foods. A restaurant followed, as did two more dairy shops and two cafe-bakeries. In a headline in 2011, The Times called the operation “The Dairy Built on Stiletto Heels.”

The farm, in Mr. Yurgaitis’s words, “was just another business we didn’t know anything about.”

He added: “We bought the farm. We bought a few cows. We opened our dairy. We made everything that milk could make. And one thing just led to another.”

Ms. Parker said: “George was a quiet titan. He didn’t want to be famous. He always just wanted to be working.”

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