Harriet Mays Powell is fashion director at New York Magazine and a former editor at Tatler. Her work has also appeared in Glamour and Elle magazines.
Question: Why is Fashion Week such a major event?
Mays Powell: Well, I think, with the onslaught of celebrity and our fascination with celebrity at such a high-pitched level, that fashion, which is kind of its younger sister or second cousin, that idea of celebrity designers are very glamorous. They dress starlets, the red carpet. The handbag business is going crazy. So, the general population has really understood fashion the way that it never has in generations before. And it’s reach, I think, a kind of celebrity, semi-celebrity level where the designers, the models, and even, you know, Anna Wintour and The Devil Wears Prada, have become large celebrities in their own rights. That has elevated the fashion show to a semi, you know, paparazzi event where people can be photographed, famous people go to the shows, famous models are seen in the collections, and designers that are world renowned and famous are seen going in and out of… out of these shows in these tents. The seating is a slightly medieval process. But yes, everybody likes to get the best seats that they can. And a lot of editors are very unhappy if they’re in the second row or the third row, which is basically considered Siberia. So if you are an editor of good standing, you usually have a front row seat at the major collections, the major shows in New York for sure, and around the world. New York leads it of and I must say, I think that’s probably an inappropriate place for it to be. New York is a solid place for fashion. It’s a consistently good place for fashion; however, it’s not the innovator, it’s not the real creative juice that we all seek and that the retailers seek to really get ourselves… us excited about the stories we’re going to put in our magazines, and the clothes that are going to bought and purchased in and ultimately bought in the stores. Particularly this season, I don’t think it was one of New York’s best seasons. I think it was a very beige season. And with that, comes a certain sort of banality. There’s nothing that glamorous and dramatic about the color beige. So I think that’s kind of a metaphor for a little bit with the season is. However, we do have a star and he’s a major star, and he continues to shock and rock and pushes us forward. And that’s Marc Jacobs and indeed his… both his collections this time were very very powerful. His Marc Jacobs collection, which I just looked at in person and up close to feel the fabrics and to see the accessories and to really see what he’d done, was a pastiche of ideas and styles and fabrics and color, and was kind of lower angles and little house on the prairie on crack, I mean, it was a crazy, apron dress, ruffled skirt [IB]. So, again, Marc pushes the boundaries. He pushes the buttons. He dares to mix fabrics and colors and silhouettes. And probably ‘cause he just doesn’t care, that he’s free to do what he wants. And he never repeats himself. He’s got favorite things that he does. There’s always a somewhere [IB] influence, I would say, but clearly done a la Marc. He likes to push people. He likes to shake it all up, you know, he was a famous… famous for his grunge collection in the early ‘90s and he continues to really rock our world. But it’s great. And this show was vibrant, colorful, eclectic, a real mix, kept everybody on their toes yet again. And it’s marked by Marc Jacobs’ collection, which is his younger line, was just as delightful and enchanting. And if I was, you know, 18 to 25 and that was sort of my demographic and my age group, I would be running, running, running to those… to his stores and to those boutiques to get those clothes. So he really gets you excited. He really makes you want to buy clothes. He makes you want… the handbags, fantastic. Everyone said the it bag is over, nobody needs groovy bags anymore, that’s all passé, forget it, Marc is just… made us all realize that there is another it bag and he had about 5 that were spectacular in his Marc collection. So, I think, New York is glad to have Marc. I’m certainly, personally, and professionally, happy to have him. He makes it exciting. He’s on a level with the best designers in Europe, particularly, Paris as well as [IB] in Milan and really keeping fashion exciting and interesting and pushing it forward.
Question: Who are the up and coming designers this season?
Mays Powell: You know, I admire Anna Wintour so much because… because of her unbelievable power and because she does a fantastic job at Vogue but particularly, in this question, because she really tries to promote and spend a large portion of her time and Vogue’s time and effort to promote the next generation. It’s just really hard business to be that competitive in. You know, these guys are coming up with four to six collections a year. That creative process is unbelievably challenging. I mean, think about an artist that has to come up with the whole oeuvre four to six times a year, I mean, they just don’t, you know. They do the same thing. They move. They evolve over time, over a decade, over 5 years. These guys are asked to kind of reinvent a wheel… as well as learning their trade and trying to have viable businesses. So it’s really hard, I think, for the young generation to come forward, to push forward. Some of, kind of new, up in comers that have been around several seasons, I’m disappointed to say that they faltered a little bit. They’re not able to keep going with the kind of expectation that we all put on them. But Anna and the Vogue [IB] and the CFDA, the Council of Fashion Designers of America really, are trying to support fashion at that starting level, to really give this young designers the support and the financial cash that they need to continue and also to sort of offer kind of mentoring program. But, no, as far as New York is concerned, that’s not… it’s not been a kind of season of newness. But London, which is happening as we speak right now, is and continues to be a real interesting place where all those free ideas and kind of crazy, eccentric things that the English are known for are able to come out and have created unbelievable talents. So, I think, London is really the place where you watch the next best generation of designers.