A Post-Vogue Fashion World?

Question: Is there a future for high-end, alternative fashion magazines?

Harriet Mays Powell: Do I think they are going to be successful? No. I don’t. I think in this economy, and the survival of print journalism holding on, only the strongest will survive, and I’m afraid that these peripheral publications just don’t have the support of the advertising community, they don’ t have the circulation to be able to withstand the kind of pressures that are going on now in print journalism. Do I think they add something? Yes, I do. I think that they add a non-mainstream point of view. I think they’re freedom to be as aggressive and shocking [in a way] that some of the more mainstream fashion publications cannot do given their size, given their readership. They just aren’t permitted to have that kind of aggressive artistic point of view. Yeah, I think it’s great. In an ideal world it would be marvelous if everyone could exist and hold on and we could have choice and point of view from all areas in journalism, particularly in its conversation about fashion. But I don’t feel that they are going to be able to really survive. But Conde Nast, the great Conde Nast publishing empire has indeed launched Love in the United Kingdom, and that is, again, Katie Grand is the Editor-in-Chief and that comes from that world of niche, slightly alternative fashion publication with a point of view. So, it will be interesting to see even with the large support of Connie Nash behind it how that will survive. You know, I have my fingers crossed, but I have my doubts as well.

Question: How does New York Magazine’s approach to fashion differ from Vogue’s?

Harriet Mays Powell: Great question. Yeah. I think under the marvelous leadership of Adam Moss, the Editor-in-Chief, we have tried to position our fashion with a different angle. We’re not trying to be Vogue, we’re not trying to be a kind of second best of one of the big fashion titles. I think we approached our Fall issue in a vernacular and it ‘s actually comes from our spin-off publication that’s temporarily on hold called Look, where we took the ideas of the collections, we extrapolated those, curated them, blew them up and I think in a very graphic, fun, exciting way added that to some really strong written features about the fashion industry and then combined that ultimately with an extraordinary photography portfolio by some of the world’s leading photographers of some of the worlds best photography agencies, and created, I think, a very compelling triad between the features, the Trends section, and extraordinary photography portfolio. I think a great combination of originality and point of view of the season, and really singing to our [own] drum. And I think it’s really puts us apart, we stand apart in a way that I’d like to think we do on a regular basis. And it's also that great freedom that we can do it our way and I think in these times, we are trying to be smart and appeal to the reader, appeal to the advertising community, appeal to the designers and everybody out there in the consumer in a way that makes you take note. And I hope we’ve succeeded. I think we have.

Question: How important is your online content?

Harriet Mays Powell: One of the great advantages we have is we do a spring and a fall issue for the moment, and we do lots of online. And if it’s all about thigh-high boots and big shoulders, we can say that with great conviction and we can say it loud and we can say it proud, and I can talk about the trends of the season in a very powerful and immediate way. When you’re a monthly publication and you’ve got three to four months where you’ve got to talk about a season, by virtue of that, you’ve got to hold on to your information. You can’t give it all up in the August issue; you’ve got to slowly seep into what the season is about. Give everyone a taste and even some stories start in June, July, and then of course August, and then hold your best stories for September, and continue on in October because that issue comes out actually in the middle of September just when you’re starting to think about Fall. So, those big behemoths, those big monthlies like Vogue, and Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar, can’t say here are the 10 things you need to know, her are the 15 items, this is what we love, this is what we love from the shows, here’s the color you gotta have. They have to be a much cagier, quieter, subtler, point of view. And they do it through stories—longer stories where we now say it in a much more brutal out there, slightly more in your face manner which I think is fun and contemporary and of the times and again sets us apart as not being a sort of sloppy second version of those guys.

All of that saying, Vogue does have the power to do those beautiful stories. If anyone has seen the September issue that Grace Coddington and her teammates do. And all the power to them. That’s their world, that’s their vernacular, that’s what they can do. They’ve got the resources and the history to do that and I hope they continue to do that, we just do something else which I think is interesting, equally as compelling, but sets us apart.

Question: Is the Vogue model still relevant?

Harriet Mays Powell: Yeah. I think it will be relevant for Vogue and some of the other ones that survive. I do think there is going to be some attrition and that there will be a whittling down and only, again, it’s a little bit Darwinistic, these times, it’s survival of the fittest and I think Vogue will survive, and some of the, like the great fashion houses. I think the great classics will, but I think some of the peripheral players will have a hard time trying to hold on.

Question: How are you different from Anna Wintour?

Harriet Mays Powell: God, I have enormous respect for Anna. She has been running Vogue with an iron fist for 20 years. She is the industry leader, not only in the publication, but she is the strongest, most powerful person in that industry. I’m always amazed at her ability to turn—six months there was a conversation that Anna might be getting too old and losing her job and that just suddenly morphed into a 60 Minutes profile and then this movie, and so Anna goes from what’s perceived to be, you know The Devil Wears Prada, that just elevated her into the public domain and even a larger place. So, she’s got a miraculous way of turning all of this press, sometimes negative into a positive for her. So, an enormous respect for Anna, what she does. What she has done to Vogue, what she continues to do for Vogue. And may she continue to hold on to that and to do it as well as she does. It’s clearly a formula that works, she’s an iron point of view, she is very decisive, I think her editors respect that, she doesn’t waiver, she’s got a very clear vision on what an American woman wants and what Vogue should be. That’s great.

I’m a different kind of fashion editor. I look at fashion, not that I don’t take it any less seriously, but it gives me great pleasure to buy a beautiful dress, to see a beautiful collection, I get very excited. In that very personal way that fashion can move you. I love clothes. And I was the girl in school that loved clothes; I bought too many clothes, I still love clothes. I like the pleasure that clothes bring. I like to see them on the page. I love to photograph them; I love to buy them for myself. So, to me, I certainly don’t want to compare myself to Anna, but we are very different animals. I look for the pleasure in fashion and how to have a good time doing that. I have the best day job on the planet. I get to look at beautiful things, look at beautiful girls, talk to designers about creativity; pick things that I just happen to think are fantastic. I mean, God, it’s an enormous luxury to be able to be surrounded by craftsman who are involved in beauty and what is beautiful and to get that vicarious thrill of seeing something and wearing it or shooting it and putting it on. So, I’d like to be able to always hold on to the enormous fun that fashion provides. It’s intelligent, the designers are very smart, these are big businesses, this is a huge industry, it is totally not fluff anymore, anyone’s perception of that for sure and there are many, many smart people that are in this industry. But I do think that one of its great lasting things is the great pleasure that it does give in all of the levels that I have described and that’s why I still love it.

Recorded On: September 22, 2009

With magazine sales plummeting and alternative, privately-funded publications on the rise, Harriet Mays Powell discusses the future of the behemoth glossy.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

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Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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