Mr Smith goes to . . . Manolo Blahnik's

At the offices of our so-called rivals in the fashion press, news of yet another scoop in these pages will have them tearing out this season's hair. At the catwalks of New York and Milan, the hacks from the glossies will squirm in their seats when they discover that the NS has beaten them to the adorable story of the shoe designer, the waiters who got stuck in a lift, and the firemen.

Let me acquaint you with some of the background. Manolo Blahnik, who has brought us more elegant heels than Mills & Boon, was recently feted at the Instituto Cervantes in London, a cultural outpost of Blahnik's native Spain. The evening began with the Stradivarius of the slingback in conversation with his friend Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the Cuban-born novelist. I regret that the demands of fashion journalism - here a paragraph on the dos and don'ts of cummerbunds; there a photo essay celebrating the style of Charles Kennedy - kept me from the Instituto until after the discussion. For a sense of what you and I both missed, the following pensee can reliably be attributed to Blahnik: "Life is awful, so ugly, messy and rushed. But in a pair of beautiful shoes, you forget your problems." (Though it does have the ring of Margaret Beckett about it, I grant you.)

One or two New Statesman subscribers inexplicably favour hand-me-down worsteds over honest, disposable designerwear, and might need some convincing of Blahnik's philosophy. I had these readers in mind when the melee parted and I came face to face with the maestro himself. "Is it true," I demanded, "that you can tell everything about a man from his shoes - and please don't look at mine?"

"It's true, yes, but I wouldn't base my judgement just on that," replied Blahnik. He was speaking in one of the six languages that he commands. A vestigial snowy ponytail, I began to suspect, was the only thing he had in common with a tailor like Karl Lagerfeld, the man who put the haughty in haute couture.

By now, the representatives of our soi-disant style bibles had already collected their hats and coats: so many hares to the NS tortoise. Consequently, they missed the drama of the catering staff trapped in the elevator. "A bloke's in there with a woman," said the caretaker. "Not his wife, thank God."

The arrival of a fire engine and its strapping complement sent a frisson through the party that a runway of male models would envy. Even some of the women looked up from their drinks.

We peered down the lift shaft. The stranded couple couldn't simply be hauled to safety, a fireman explained, in case the lift fell during the rescue, cleaving them in half. Instead, the pair were helped out through the kitchens at the base of the shaft. A relief for them, but a bad hare day for my fellow fashionistas.

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