Madeline Weinrib is an artist, a textile designer, and an experienced traveller (she regularly visits many of the places on our travel wishlist). We admire her designs, and clearly we're not alone -- with exclusive items at Barney's and collaborations with Manolo Blahnik, she's got a lot of very discerning fans. We recently had the chance to visit her studio; a space full of colors, textures, patterns, and collections of beautiful objects. We sat over mint tea (that was presented on a tray covered in fresh rose petals) and asked her about her career, her travels, and her latest product: argan oil from Morocco.
What drew you to textile design?
It actually started almost as an experiment. I was working as a fine artist, as a painter, and I had a gallery that represented me and I was just kind of dabbling. The whole process was organic and surprising. It wasn’t ever a decision, it kind of just happened through working.
How did your newest product, the argan oil, come about?
The argan oil, which I love, came about several years ago. I have an agent in Morocco helping me buy old carpets, I’ve been doing that since the late 90’s, and my agent’s wife gave me a bottle that she made and it was the best oil I ever used. It was 100% organic, cold-pressed, and she made it, and so we’ve worked to produce it. I thought it was just so good that we should produce it and design a really beautiful bottle for it.
It’s kind of like everything that I do. Nothing is really part of a business plan. It’d be good if I had a business plan, I think it might help, but it’s always been an organic process. I go to Morocco and I have a relationship with my agent and I go to his home for dinner, and I know his wife, she was making this oil. It was never a thought, like “gee, I want to make argan oil." The secret behind a lot of this is that it’s stuff I want. Everything that I do comes from a real love of something.
How often do you travel for inspiration? And where are the places you go to for inspiration?
I go to Morocco very often, I also go to India very often, I go to Nepal very often. Turkey. All of these places are places where I get inspiration.
Is there a quick fix to improve a space?
I would definitely say when I made my cotton carpets, which are relatively inexpensive compared to wool carpets -- and if you keep in mind that they’re still a handmade product, they’re not machine made -- I remember thinking for not a lot of money, you can really alter your home with a cotton rug. One of my cotton rugs (laughs). The graphics, the colors; if a room just has a bed in it, a rug changes the space. And I thought it’s a great thing for people who rent homes, like if you have a summer house that you just rent, it’s a way to make it prettier.
What are your favorite beauty products and the extra steps (if any) that make you feel extra polished?
Lipstick definitely makes me feel extra polished, and I love the lipsticks by the Lipstick Queen. I think she makes a great product. I met her once and thought she was pretty dynamic. Tracy Martin Alma Purifying Cleanser, my Argan Oil -- I put a drop in my hair at night. It’s hydrating but doesn’t weigh your hair down and gives you beautiful shiny hair. Everything from a French company called Biologique Recherche, and I never go to sleep without moisturizer.
What are your wardrobe staples? Your treasured pieces?
Staples would definitely have to be black clothing. I think there’s a reason most New York women love black clothing. I think most of it has to do with the fact that everything matches. You don’t have to worry too much if you’re getting ready for work, and I think it just looks really elegant. I have a large collection of caftans, some vintage and some new, and have also designed my own in silk georgette inspired by all of the beautiful pink saris in India. I wear them all summer and when I come home from work I immediately put on a caftan. There is a relaxed elegance about caftans that makes them timeless.
What are the extra fancy things you splurge on?
I splurge on Prada evening coats. They never go out of style and really transform an outfit. I always feel well dressed when I wear one.
What are some special pieces or objects in your home?
I collect art. Obviously I’m not buying the blue chip pieces, I like to buy emerging artists, and I think that’s an easy thing to buy these days because there’s a lot of art fairs that support that. I’m looking at this (points to the tray with the rose petals and Moroccan mint tea on it), and thinking I love trays. I have a lot of trays. I find, first of all, that they’re beautiful objects, and they're a wonderful way to organize other objects. So even in my bathroom where I have my perfume and my oil, and all my other products and cotton balls, it’s all on a tray. I feel like trays keep it very organized looking. I love to buy trays when I travel, and I also make my own trays that I sell at Barney’s. They’re an exclusive to Barney’s. These are made with my fabric, that we then put a lacquer on top of. I also love everything for the table. I’m a big tabletop girl. I cook and I love having people over for dinner, and to me it’s all about making the table pretty. It doesn’t have to be expensive. I sometimes use Turkish towels on my table as tablecloths, and I think they look really beautiful. I love all tabletop. I love vases, and that again is something else that I collect a lot of and that I buy at flea markets. I can’t say I’m a minimal person because I love just too many things, which is kind of unfortunate.
What’s your favorite way to entertain?
Well, I do like to cook. And again it would be setting a beautiful table. When I say set a table I mean, I still like a very casual feeling in my home. I like to have friends over, and I cook, and I would like to have someone else there to clean up -- that’s something I’m thinking about for the future. I used to live in Italy, and I really learned how to cook when I was there. And I have lots of these Moroccan trays, and I use them a lot. And I use these tea glasses at the table but not for tea, for instance, I’ll use them as water glasses next to a wine glass.
What’s a good book that you recently read?
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. As a professional businesswoman, I found it helpful and inspiring.
Are there any books that you find yourself returning to and rereading?
Do you have a favorite travel destination?
All the places that I work. Fortunately for me, I like going to them. I like the food in them as well. I’ve come to place where if someone was to say to me, “why don’t you go to this country because they make really good textiles,” at this point, if they didn’t have good food I wouldn't go. I think I’ve come to the fact that I really love the mixture of making textiles and eating well. I feel like that’s a really wonderful combination for me as a person who travels a lot for work. And I have traveled to places for work where they didn’t have good food, and it was very hard, because the work is hard. If you don’t have anything to fill your senses it’s very tough.
Are work travel and personal travel separate?
I tend not to do a lot of beach vacations, I tend to really like traveling for work. And I would say if you asked me right now, of all the places I travel to for work, which has my favorite food, I would have to say Turkey. Turkey has me, hands down. In fact, the men there that I work with kind of make fun of me because I eat so much. They say I’m actually fun to go out with to eat. So I do recommend people go to Istanbul to eat.
What are the things you never travel without -- the objects, products, and rituals that make your travel experiences more enjoyable?
Well, I will no longer travel without my Moroccan oil because it’s so good for your hair. I’m actually very funny about planes and taking care of my skin. I don’t put makeup on on a flight, ever, and I travel with a small amount of moisturizer to continually re-moisturize my skin. I also always travel with a pad and a pencil. I just can’t imagine going anywhere without that. I also don’t think I would go anywhere again without two pairs of sunglasses, in case I lost one. I couldn’t be out during the day anywhere without my sunglasses. I’m not a big believer in traveling with high heels, particularly in countries like India and Morocco, I actually think they look kind of silly. The countries are dusty and kind of difficult and there’s beautiful flats out there and I feel like they kind of lend themselves more to those kinds of travels.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I definitely feel very surprised by my career. It was not something I expected. Almost, when I went into textiles, it was a way of saying “well, I’m not going to have success but it’s going to be interesting. I’m really going to like this, but it’s never going to be successful,” because that’s what I believed. I wish I could have been my own cheerleader, telling myself that that was the right thing to do. I would tell myself to believe in what I was doing. To really believe in it.
If you weren’t doing this what do you think you’d be doing?
Teaching. I was actually teaching art when I was making textiles, then I was traveling so I couldn’t. I liked teaching very much. In fact, some people who work for me feel like I’m very teacher-y.