– Words and photography by Lia Crowe
Meeting Manuela in person and walking into her ultra-cool office in a brick heritage building down in Vancouver’s Gastown, one is immediately drawn into the world of someone who is unique and chic, and who definitely has something interesting to say.
“Better to be bizarre than boring,” Manuela says when asked what good style means to her. “I don’t understand wanting to look the same as everyone else; individual expression is so much more engaging.”
With a business degree from Simon Fraser University, Manuela says she “sort of tripped and fell” into the real estate development industry in the mid-’90s.
“I started out in pre-sales of single family homes in Port Coquitlam of all places, and eventually worked my way up to the senior executive level. I worked with many of North America’s most prominent developers in landmark communities, from Houston and San Francisco all the way up the coast and across Western Canada.”
Asked what fires her up the most about her work, she says, “I am part of the team that provides one of life’s most intrinsic necessities: shelter. Not only is real estate the single largest purchase that people ever make in their lives, it is also the literal building block of communities and cities. I cannot think of a more rewarding line of work. I’ve been doing it for exactly 50 per cent of my life as of this year.”
As soon as I start photographing Manuela, it’s immediately clear to me she is also a performer, so I gotta ask…
“Burlesque!” she responds. “I have been a professional burlesque performer, costumer and columnist for over a decade now, and have performed on stages from Berlin to Vegas. A life highlight for me was being featured in Russia’s Cosmopolitan magazine when I headlined in Moscow a couple years ago. [Coming up], I’ve donated two performances to the first live burlesque show to be held in the city since the onset of COVID-19. I’ll be performing on September 24 at the Biltmore Cabaret, and I can hardly wait to get back on stage!”
She has so much diverse life experience that I wonder what’s the best life lesson she has learned over the years.
“Not to be afraid of living in a state of radical honesty! I am not responsible for other people’s fears and insecurities,” she says.
And lastly, I ask Manuela to describe her own unique style.
“My style is 100 per cent based on what makes me feel fabulous, regardless of current trends or dictum. Sometimes my choices align with what is considered fashionable in the moment, but often not. And I fully embrace that dissonance as it allows me to project the confidence I feel in making fashion choices that reflect me and me alone.”
Fashion & Beauty
Uniform: Dresses. I never ever wear pants. How else can you put on a single item of clothing and look instantly polished? The only pants I own are for skiing and the gym.
All-time favourite piece: Depends entirely on the day.
Currently coveting: Searching for the ideal voluminous-skirted, light-weight silk maxi dress. The sort that will float and swirl like a cloud in the breeze.
Favourite pair of shoes: My weakness! While I’m fortunate to own the usual suspects of Valentino, Gucci, Ferragamo et al., I have recently become obsessed with this amazing Italian company, Girotti Shoes, which allows you to design and customize your shoes from scratch. I’ve designed and purchased eight pairs this year! It’s addictive!
Favourite day-bag: LV On My SideMM.
Favourite work tool: My intuition and experience.
Favourite jewellery piece or designer: A rope of Tahitian black pearls that I purchased in the Tuamotu archipelago of French Polynesia on Fakarava Atoll.
Fashion obsession: Custom shoes.
Accessory you spend the most money on: Jewellery.
Necessary indulgence for either fashion or beauty: Anything that makes you feel unique and powerful.
Moisturizer: Filorga Time-Filler. The only moisturizer I’ve ever tried that actually delivered a noticeable difference in the texture of my skin.
Scent: Frangipane by Chantecaille. It smells like my annual trips to Bora Bora, Tahitian vanilla and white tropical florals.
Must-have hair product: Axis hair salon’s house brand Mōr Oil.
Style Inspirations & Life
Style icon: Iris Apfel because she is inimitable.
Favourite artist: Cuban artist Tonel, who now lives and works in Vancouver.
Piece of art: A freehand traditional Marquesan tattoo I had done on my hip, outdoors in the jungle of Hiva Oa, the island where Paul Gauguin did so many of his most famous portraits of Polynesian women and where he was ultimately laid to rest. I contracted fengue fever during the process, but the experience and artistry was more than worth it. Besides, what a story!
Favourite flower: Peony.
Favourite city to visit: Moscow.
Favourite place in the whole world: Anywhere in French Polynesia.
One thing that consistently lifts your spirits during these hard times: My four rescue animals that I’ve collected on my world travels.
What you read online for style: I follow random threads on IG to find people with a unique presentation of self.
Fave style blog: A men’s style page on IG, @blackinspiredalphas. The style and swagger of these Black men is both beautiful and inspiring.
Coffee table book/photography book: A retrospective of Art Nouveau that I purchased at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Last great read: A biography of Eva Braun by Heike B. Görtemaker that I purchased at the Dachau concentration camp museum in Bavaria.
Book currently reading: Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 by Piero Gleijeses.
Favourite book of all time: Bryce Courtenay’s Power of One.
You can find Manuela at her Key Marketing site.