Beloved shoe executive George Malkemus, who made Manolo Blahnik a powerful brand in the United States and then teamed up with Sarah Jessica Parker on his SJP label, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 67 years old.
Representatives from Arethusa Farm revealed Malkemus’ death on social media on Friday. (The executive owned the farm with his partner Tony Yurgaitis.)
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce to you that our beloved George Malkemus passed away last night at his New York home after a long battle with cancer,” Arethusa said in posts on Facebook and Instagram. “Our George was very private – preferring not to disturb anyone with his health issues.”
For three decades, Malkemus and Blahnik have been one of the best-known duos in the luxury footwear industry.
Malkemus bought the North American and South American rights to the creator’s name in 1982, after a brief encounter in which the two opened up about their love for – and ownership of – Scottish Terriers. “None of us were greedy. We wanted to do this at our own pace and learn the ropes as we go. That way the mistakes we make would be small mistakes rather than big ones, and that’s the philosophy we’ve always kept, ”said Malkemus in 2009, when he was inducted into the FN Hall of Fame.
Before meeting Blahnik, the always charming Malkemus thought he wanted to be a doctor, but soon decided to devote himself to writing. So he left his home in San Antonio, Texas, and eventually landed a job as Chief Copy Officer at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
By day he wrote prose on shoes for the department store. At night, Malkemus visited nightlife spots like Studio 54, where he befriended designers Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein – contacts that would prove invaluable years later.
After teaming up with Blahnik, the young executive approached the fashion designers and asked them if they would use Manolo Blahnik shoes for their runway collections. They did it.
“Eventually it became almost every name on Seventh Avenue, from Bill Blass to Oscar de la Renta to Carolina Herrera,” said Malkemus.
It was then that Neiman Marcus called. The department store bought the two Blahnik shoes designed for Calvin Klein, ordering just 30 pairs for its Beverly Hills store and another 30 for its San Francisco door.
Under Malkemus’ leadership, Manolo Blahnik shoes have become a staple for all American retailers.
“George is first and foremost a merchant,” said Karen Katz, in 2009, when she was President and CEO of Neiman Marcus Stores. “He approaches every new season with that perspective, knowing what the customer is looking for, what needs haven’t been met, what has worked in previous seasons. He works with Manolo Blahnik to design a terrific assortment of shoes for our client.
In 2013, Malkemus teamed up with Sarah Jessica Parker to launch Sarah Jessica Parker’s SJP.
“I met a lot of interesting, kind and lovable potential partners, but at night when I was lying in my bed thinking about this opportunity and what it meant to me, these partnerships didn’t seem right to me.” Parker told WWD’s sister. FN publication at the time. “I realized that the only person I would want to work with, in an ideal world, was George… But I was hesitant because I knew how much he had to,” she admitted. “I didn’t see him as a big shoe producer. He doesn’t run a business like many other men and women in the shoe industry.
Malkemus worked alongside Parker until his death. He ended his partnership with Blahnik in 2019.