Manuela and her husband James Goren are no strangers to Jamaica. Indeed, real estate and securities investor James Goren is a founding investor in BCW Capital. What many might not know is that his wife Manuela, who up until recently worked at the monthly magazine Velvet (now folded) and the weekly "D" for the best-selling Italian newspaper La Repubblica, spent 25 years at Italian Vogue and L'Uomo Vogue.
SO catches up with Manuela, who's settling into her brand-new Nancy Maffessanti- designed home at Tryall called Stella by The Sea, a six-bedroom villa on the waterfront with its own private beach, a salt water natural pool, and, dare we opine, regular swimming pool? There's a screening room, too, as well as a gourmet kitchen.
Manuela, who refers to her new home (the couple's other Tryall home is now available for friends and family to enjoy) as a 'labour of love', settles comfortably into the ample white sofa as she harks back to another life. "My start at Italian Vogue was both a lucky and unusual break," she explains. "I came to the Fashion Bible from sports! I was almost 20 years old, a student of architecture and playing basketball semi-professionally in the women's team in Milan, Italy. My future sister-in-law introduced me to a Vogue editor who was looking for a young woman who knew about sports, to write feature stories and do interviews for the brand-new glamour magazine. I proposed a piece on cars and motorcycles (another passion of mine) and started from there." Manuela, with her feet through the door, was soon writing for Vogue Italia and L'Uomo Vogue as well as expanding her horizons from sports to fashion, culture and entertainment. Her association with Conde Nast and its publications would last for 25 years until Manuela decided to switch to radio. " I left to pursue a position in radio, producing and contributing on-air, five days a week, to a live two-hour programme for the largest private radio station in Italy: Radio 105". This was, however, short-lived, as family pressures forced her to return to print. "I came back to print journalism after an almost revolution in my family. My husband and children were complaining that I was never home while working for the radio. I was then asked to contribute to the monthly magazine Velvet that unfortunately just folded and the weekly "D", for the best-selling Italian newspaper La Repubblica."
The irresistible urge to ask for Manuela's take on Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani and American Vogue's Anna Wintour prompts this response: "Franca Sozzani, the legendary Italian counterpart to Anna Wintour, is an old friend that I have known since I was a teenager. She is, without a doubt, one of the smartest, most stylish women I have ever known, in a very subdued way. I have also had the good fortune of meeting and knowing Anna Wintour fairly well. Wintour is a very shy, polite, brilliant woman. Both Franca and Anna share a steely resolve and a clear vision of where they want their magazines to be."
No amount of plodding gets Manuela to spill deets on any of the numerous celebs she interviewed in all the years that she worked as the US correspondent for Vogue and L'Uomo: " I've met a lot of interesting, fascinating people; some more fun than others. But, to me, all exciting because I love talking to people and finding about their lives and their work." The gentlest of nudges gets us talking about Manuela's passion for movies and the fact that she actually pursued a degree in Cinema Studies from New York University. "Interviewing directors is probably more interesting to me than actors. Invariably, the bigger the stars, the nicer they are. There's nothing more annoying than a starlet (male or female) who thinks they are sooo important because they have just shot a movie; while someone like Meryl Streep or Harrison Ford can be the humblest, nicest, most accessible person. I really cannot pick the favourite among all the interviews I have done, as they are like my children."
As we move the discourse back to Vogue and its continued relevance, Manuela is convinced of the magazine's place. "I think that Vogue is still a very important influence on today's fashion, but clearly, in the United States, for example, publications like InStyle are very successful because they are perceived as being more accessible and user-friendly. In today's world and economy it's nice to get our suggestions and ideas from magazines like Vogue, but we need to know where we can find fashion that is fun and affordable. I really believe that any woman can be stylish and elegant without having to spend a fortune."
An interesting take from a woman who has embraced 'haute' and from whose country of origin, Italy, designers like Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Pucci and Valentino, to name a few, have survived several seismic shifts. " I think that Italian designers will always lead the way in terms of style. Their attention to detail and the quality of their product continues to be superb. If you compare the manufacturing (evident in the Made in Italy lines) of Italian designers with the Americans, for example, one can see a big difference in the final product. I personally am a fan of Alberta Ferretti, even though I have also worn a lot of Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Prada and recently, for fun clothing, Zadig and Voltaire."
And what, we ask are her thoughts on the all-black issue of Italian Vogue? "I was not super-impressed with the idea of Vogue's so-called Black Issue. I do not think that there should be any difference between the coverage and exposure given to black, white or Asian models in a global-appeal magazine. Everyone should be represented in every issue."
Manuela has her own thoughts, too, on using celebs on the cover of magazines to sell fashion. "Celebrities selling fashion works only if they are used because they can be of very different body types and ages, while models all tend to be very young and thin, therefore often presenting an unattainable example of beauty.
I have often sat through most of the shows at New York Fashion Week and at times, between the power play on the seating arrangements and the long waits, it becomes almost unbearable. Sometimes, though, one can witness the true art of fashion at its best, and it can be with a minimalist show or an all- out rock presentation."
Designers who make Manuela sit up and take note are Zac Posen, Stella McCartney, Jenny Packham and Rodarte. In the Caribbean her eyes are on Meiling, Arlene Martin, Sandra Kennedy and Cedella Marley.
Manuela Goren is not just looking back, although we could have spent an entire week holed up in her luxurious home exchanging fashion and design notes. Her current project is the Sugarcane Ball at Round Hill Hotel & Villas. Manuela is the chair and this year's theme, 'A Night At Studio 54', affords her the time to reminisce about "my misspent youth in NYC". That aside, Manuela is on the board of directors of a not-for-profit theatre company in Manhattan called The New Group. The company opens Clive starring Ethan Hawke, who also directs the music, Vincent D'Onofrio and Zoe Kaza off-Broadway, on February 7. Manuela "continues to be a convinced activist. I worked for Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012". She values her work and association as a director with the American Friends of Jamaica. Her proudest achievements, however, are her two children: Arielle, who is the head speechwriter for NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, and her son David, who lives in Los Angeles. He is an actor and screenwriter who has just completed his first film as assistant director to Gia Coppola, and who will be starring in February in the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in Santa Barbara.