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Big Think Interview with Harriet Mays Powell
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: Give us a rundown of NY Fashion Week 2009.
Harriet Mays Powell: It was a good week for New York fashion. I must say, I am pleased that the American designers did as well as they did. It’s a do or die situation I fear for a lot of the littler houses. The starts are, no huge surprises. Marc Jacobs I think was the outstanding star as he continues to be. He just takes fashion and turns it on its head and does something provocative, unusual; that’s usually the antithesis of what he had done the season before. And again, this season, he didn’t disappoint. Last season it was about 80’s and Mud Club, and shoulders and neon. This is all about ruffles and pearls and a kind of romance and theatricality that got everybody very excited.
Calvin Klein, Francis Gil Costa did a great collection again keeping with the—different than Marc. You know, Marc throws everything on its head every time. Francisco was true to the sort of DNA of Calvin Klein, it’s a much more minimalist approach, but within that, he as well, did a slightly softer silhouette, textured fabrics, moving away from the body. Much more ease and confidence that I think he has done in the past. So, he did a very strong collection. Donna Karan, one of her best collections in years. Again, true to her own DNA. Great looking suits, appropriate for working women. Done with texture, subtle colors. The girls looked beautiful.
Some unexpected stars: Jason Wu continues to develop as one of the First Lady’s favorite designers. He did a very sophisticated collection and continues to grow and expand. And I think, gosh, Michelle Obama, I could see her in so many of the looks from that show, albeit longer in length, appropriately for her. And then Peter Som did a really nice collection. He’s one of the sort of younger generation. A lot of them had trouble this season, and Peter did a very smart, short presentation; girls on the podium, about 25 looks, and it was just great, really great, great merchandise. So, I was thrilled to see that. And I think New York—I think a lot of the designers—Oscar was true, not riveting, but was consistent with what his message usually is in a woman. I was a little bit disappointed in Michael Kors. He’s a designer of my generation, we’ve been around together for a long time, and I thought his collection was a little bit out of focus. He didn’t really know what he wanted to say or do, and I think he had too many trends and wasn’t a tight enough point of view and an edit from a designer as well established and as good as he can be.
Question: What’s a must have item for the fall?
Harriet Mays Powell: I think the must-have item, well right now, you’ve got to go and get a pair of thigh high boots. Your boots for Fall have got to be over the knee at some point. So, you want to wear them with jeans, with leggings, but you need a big, tall, sexy, kind of 70’s inspired boot. Biker jacket. I think a leather biker jacket would be the piece of clothing that everyone needs for Fall. For Spring, it’s a little too soon to say. We’ve only had New York. London is just finishing now. We haven’t had any of the big guns in Milan or in Paris. But I would suggest that something more romantic, something feminine, something with some, literally, some texture to it, possibly ruffles would be something that you needed to have for Spring/Summer going forward. But again, a little early to tell.
Question: How has Tory Burch evolved into a serious name in fashion?
Tory has found a niche. Her prices are very, very good. She not at that high level designer price point, she just isn’t up there with a $4,000 dress, or a Two and a-half thousand dollar jacket. She’s at a lower price point which I think allows her to have more popularity with more – a larger audience and I think that was a very smart decision. She has also capitalized, I think she’s got a kind of preppy, sort of a preppiness with an edge is how I consider Tory. It’s kind of classic conservative on one level, yet she breaks out. Either the prints are a little bit bolder, or the colors are a little bit more cutting edge, so she’s got a bit of nuance and a bit of style, but based on the more classic genre; however, it’s not tedious, it’s not preppy, it’s not Lily Pulitzer. It’s definitely something bigger and more interesting than that. And again, at a great price point.
Question: Is this a model for other designers?
Harriet Mays Powell: I do. I think Diane Von Furstenberg, one of the doyennes of American fashion and certainly a fixture of New York fashion, and Head of the CFDA now. One of Diane’s great successes is, again, her price points are reasonable. They are just underneath that designer price point. So, she allows people to have access to fashion, to her brand, the way Tory does. But at much more affordable prices. And I think so. You know Alber Elbaz is now doing a great T-shirt line. He’s going to be doing a lot of Lanvin classics. Those are going to be at less prices. I think all of the designers are looking at price; they are looking at how to bring more value to the customer as well as keeping the customer excited and wanting to buy. So, while they are doing color, texture, fun prints, getting everyone’s eye popping as they get into a retail space, they are also having the price tags come down a bit. And I think it’s a big trend and they are all thinking about it.
Question: Will we continue to see high-end designers doing affordable, mainstream lines?
Harriet Mays Powell: I love it. I love the high/low. I think when Karl Lagerfeld, infamously of his own line and obviously of Chanel came and did H&M. He just becomes, for him it’s such a brand extension, he becomes a kind of iconic person. You know, it’s sort of Karl like Anna Wintour. It’s Anna Wintour and its Karl. So, I think it’s very smart from their point of view, I think its great that the masses can touch a bit of designer merchandise. I mean, I went to H&M and bought one of Karl’s sequined jackets and have it in my closet as just kind of an archival piece. I love that they do that high/low thing and they don’t stay in their ivory tower with their $20,000 Couture dresses.
Question: What is the future of luxury brands?
Harriet Mays Powell: I think luxury brands are – there’s been a real reset button going on. There was a big piece that we discussed in The New York Times yesterday discussing how luxury brands in Japan have really taken a dive. You know, the Japanese used to consider buying a Louis Vuitton bag as a kind of right of passage. They would sacrifice rent and food to be able to do that. And that generation is no longer. The generation of now is more interested in more vintage things. Slightly more eclectic designs. So, I think luxury brands are used to having an ongoing meteoric rise that they no longer can sustain and they are going to have to readjust. All that to say, the world has had to readjust. I think we’ve all had to readjust, personally, professionally for sure in the great recession. All that to say, I think some of the key classic brands like Louis Vuitton, like a Chanel, like an Hermes, those tired and true established brands, those have a quality that is without sounding like a cliché, really timeless. And to buy a Louis Vuitton bag will always be that. To get a Chanel suit will always be that. To have something from Hermes again, will always be there forever. And I think that’s where people are going to buy investment pieces. They’re going to go back to the recognized classics that will have value, even if it’s something that’s going to be an heirloom for your child. Even if it’s something that you know, that if you need to, you could sell it on e-Bay. Or that something that’s not going to fall apart because you know the quality of a Vuitton, a Chanel, of a Hermes has an enduring longevity. It’s not going to fall apart in three years the way some things do. So, I think those guys, those houses, will be fine and will be even smarter in the way they edit and make their collections.
Are the days of people buying nine handbags a season over? Absolutely. Will they come back in my opinion. No. Is everyone going to have to readjust that? For sure. I think the things, again, that are true and real and have quality and integrity will stay and sustain.
Question: Are we witnessing a change in the ideal body type?
Harriet Mays Powell: You know, I wouldn’t call it a big change. I think maybe there was an occasional girl here or there that’s a little bit more eclectic looking, a little different. There’s a big store out of Europe called Laura Stone. You know, she is quite full-chested; she’s got the crazy big gap in her teeth. She’s not a size 0. She’s kind of an ‘it’ model girl at the moment. But she stands out because of other things. She’s got almost a kind of actress appeal to her. I don’t think, unfortunately, we are going back to kind of normal sizes where a size 6 is the norm the way it was 25 or 30 years ago. Girls are still very, very tall, they’re still, I think, overly skinny. The samples – it’s difficult. A lot of the celebrities can’t even wear the samples because they’re so small because these girls are so tiny. I’d like to say it was a change and that we are going back to a slight sense of normalcy in the way because I do think it’s a problem and its been talked about certainly in the last several years in fashion what to do about it. But I don’t think fashion is ready for that. I don’t’ think the designers are ready for it, nor the model agencies. So, I’m afraid we are still in status quo mode.
Question: Why do designers favor the tall, thin body-type?
Harriet Mays Powell: To break it down, models are kind of hangers. They’ve got good shoulders, and then the clothing drapes off of them. And without it sounding calculating and dry, there is something easier about designing when the fit is not anything you have to reconsider or consider. And if you’ve got a beautiful long neck, a tall stature, and great shoulders, the clothing just hangs. The French have a great expression for that, she’s a porte-manteau, she’s a hanger. And that’s just an easier way to get your idea of fashion across when you’re not competing with waist, chest, hip, shortness of leg; when you’re not dealing with any kind of other physical issues. You can really go for the design that you really want to do in its purest form. So, that is indeed at the end of the day why the designers choose it.
Question: Is fashion empowering for women?
Harriet Mays Powell: I think when Coco Chanel took the course and through it out the window, and un-boned everything and gave a loose jacket, gave women pants, gave women oversized – gave women knits and jersey, I mean that was, we’re not a part of vernacular, they were wearing bustles and corset’s. So, Coco, as one of the first great liberating female designers. Yes, I think it is very empowering. I think there’s choice out there, I think that fashion is such a big business now, there’s so many choices for women. You can really, each season, find what you like. If you don’t like the 80’s, you can do the 40’s. That’s kind of, you know, a nipped in waist, a shoulder pad, you can for a more conservative look. You don’t have to go for sequined leggings and a big crazy brocade top from Gucci, you can go in a much more Lanvin-esque sort of version of that, which is the 40’s. So, yes, I think there’s great choice for women and I think women, more and more, have confidence to wear what they want, wear it how they want to do it, and not be constrained even by what we fashion journalists tell them is in and what’s cool. And I think that’s what’s really nice. And I think the other thing, I was chatting with Marc Jacobs the other day. You know, he can’t stand it when people wear his clothes head to toe, he likes it when you mix it all up and you buy one of his pieces and wear it with something else.
I was talking to another designer who said, “I love when you rediscover things in your closet. I think it’s really great. You’ve gone back in and found a great jacket, found a great blouse, you mix it all in.” So, I think women are more empowered. I think they are allowed to be sexier if they want to be. Stronger if they want to be, and the choices are really out there at all price points and actually, you can almost find what you want each season and every season. So, that’s a lovely amount of choice that women now have. [00:17:12.10]
Question: How does one city’s fashion week differ from another’s?
Harriet Mays Powell: Well, I think each one falls into their own sort of personality of the country and its own DNA. New York is very fast moving, it’s very crisp, it’s very to the point, it’s all about business. New York fashion tends to be like that, it tends to be no nonsense, the venues are sensible, it's [done] in an organized, orderly way, America is knows for sportswear that is separate pieces that are put together, that is what the American great contribution to fashion has been. That’s where America continues to do and do well. The English and London Fashion Week, which is currently going on now are known for eccentricity, outlandishness, theatrics, you know, the Land of Shakespeare, that gone crazy and wild, they do it in extraordinary venues, inconveniently late at night with great theatrics and drama. That’s the English point of view.
The Italians, again, are known for craftsmanship, it’s the fabrics, it’s the ability to make beautiful clothing, that’s what the Italians have always known how to do. Great leather goods, great, great fabrics, great seaming, and tailoring, beautiful suits. That’s what Italians do, and that’s what they do best as well. And then you go to Paris and that’s just the [most] magic city of all in my mind. That’s where the Couture exists, those one-of-a-kind dresses that the French put out twice a year which is really a marvelous factory for extraordinary design and fashion that is only really in Paris and supported by the French, and even by the French government. And the French have in their, I mean, it’s in the water, it’s in the wine, it’s in the baguette, it’s in their DNA. It’s in their sense of style, a sense of that being important, I mean French fashion is a part of French culture in the way the American flag is a symbol of being an American. It’s just that it’s a part of who they are. I think they do it better than anybody else, I think their level of understanding of it is more sophisticated. Even if the designer stuff, you know Pilates is an Italian, Alvaro is an Israeli, but they are both designing for houses in Paris, they are in that culture, they are in that world. Marc Jacobs does Louis Vuitton. It’s just, you get absorbed into that French ethos, that femininity, the understanding of quality and craftsmanship; the workmen that are still there that do that beautiful embroidery, Mr. Lesage. It doesn’t happen anywhere else on the planet. And I think along with the French government supporting French fashion, it’s just a city that really dazzles, and they have I think basically the best clothes on the planet.
Question: Are the French more put-together than New Yorkers?
Harriet Mays Powell: Yeah, they care about it. You know, the French woman traditionally goes and buys a couple of pieces each season; jacket, maybe coat, new pair of boots, a skirt. And she wears that for the six months and she really wears those few things, mixes with her old pieces, and then gets something new in Spring. American women don’t tend to buy that way. They tend to buy more things, they don’t tend to buy investment pieces, I think American women tend to make more mistakes in what they buy. So, it’s a different philosophy. I think it’s in the culture as well. I think French women are brought up to care more about that, in a way. That seems to be more a part of what’s important, and that might have to do with something deeper sociological, psychological relationship that they have with men in their society, the way the female relationship is. How men view women and sexuality and it’s a slightly more Latin point of view and that, in my mind, indicate why the women are a little more interested in their style and their presence.
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 their freedom to be as aggressive and shocking as 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 a real 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 Conde Nast 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 world's 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 [world] 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's 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.
Question: Why are people so fascinated by the fashion industry?
Harriet Mays Powell: Well I think if fashion has gotten to a point where it’s sort of like mini-Hollywood. It’s actress light. It’s melodrama small. It’s a sitcom, it’s not the full-length feature movie—fashion provides a certain drama. It’s got the ego, it’s got the beauty, it’s got the glamour that Hollywood has, and because it’s not Hollywood—we can’t get in behind Meryl Streep’s dressing room. We can’t get backstage at the filming of that. We can’t see when Cameron—who was just on—Charlize Theron just did a nude scene and they did it at night or at 4:00 in the morning because they didn’t want anyone to know, and only the director and Charlize knew, and da, da, da, da. And we can’t get behind the scenes on that, you can’t do that. The celebs won’t let you do that. Hollywood won’t allow us. So, fashion is sort of Hollywood-lite on some level and you can get into a bit of the drama and the glamour and the beauty that Hollywood provides, and it’s also a lot of ego. So, you get a little bit of the story line as well.
Question: Why are celebrities so attracted to the fashion world?
Harriet Mays Powell: Well, they’ve got to look great and that’s their image. And similarly, John Galliano made it out of the slight obscurity when his dresses were worn by actresses on the cat walk—on the red carpet, I mean. So, it’s a great symbiotic relationship. Actresses need to look glamorous, they need to be photographed and similarly designers want to keep their street cred with the general public who is watching the Oscars, who’s watching all of the celebs, reading all the weeklies, looking at all the online sites to see what they’re wearing when they go out, when they go to award ceremonies. So, Hollywood and fashion have gotten into bed together and it’s working nicely actually for both of them.
Question: Which celebrities have the best style?
I’m always riveted by Madonna. She continues to morph even at age 50, 51. She was backstage at Marc Jacobs. I’m just slightly speechless because I think she’s got great style and if not, she’s got unbelievable balls to have the style that she wants to have when she wants to have it. So, think she’s someone that I’ve always found to be interesting. I think occasionally, Katie Holmes has had great personal style and is kind of gracious in the way she gets dressed. Uma Thurman was a model. I love her style all the time. She looks just great in clothes. You know, Beyonce is sexy and beautiful and round, and I love the way she looks too. Very, very different.
Questions: Who sets the trends in fashion?
Harriet Mays Powell: Well, I think of a generation, the blogs are—I like to consider ours, The Cut, which is going through the roof in its record-breaking numbers during New York fashion week last week, that people are coming more to the blogs and good smart ones that have a point of view, that tell them the news, that synthesize it, also have a bit of a cutting edge, shall we say, not to use the pun of cut. I think that a generational change that really is happening. I don’t think that celebrities are in general—you know, I think the Olsens have great style and that’s an exception to the rule, and they are also doing a great line of clothing, kind of cool classics called The Row. But in general, no, I think it comes from the designers. They’re the ones that set the trends, they’re the ones that create the desire, create the passion, create the whole aura around what you want to get, or wear, or see in any given season. And fashion traditionally goes from yin to yang. Last Fall, this Fall, it was about 80’s and leather and tight and sequins and shoulders and belts, or 40’s and more conservative version of that same silhouette, and for Spring, so far, it’s very romantic. It’s quite loose, enormous amount of texture to fabrics and ruffles and pearls, or ruching, or right strong color, things that are very eye-popping. So, again, you are seeing the antithesis of what came before. Fashion designers tend to be tired of what they’ve just seen for six months and they want something completely different and fresh. So, if you see a season of black, you can bet the next season is going to be white. If you see a season where it’s short and tight, you can sort of put your money on it might be long and loose, or looser and slightly more poetic in its point of view.
Question: Who has the best eye in fashion?
Harriet Mays Powell: I think the designer today that really designs for women. That’s leading the pack on that with that in mind is Alber Elbaz. I think his ability to design, his technique, his literal ability to design a dress and know how to technically do that hasn't got many peers.
I think Alber really understands a woman, I think he understand not only her body, but her psyche, how she wants to be alluring, how she wants to feel, I think he’s really entered into that space and therefore I think he designs with that in mind along with an unbelievable technical ability to make perfectly beautiful clothing seem effortless and have a great ease and sensuality that’s very, very accomplished and difficult to come by. So I would have to give my stars to the man with the most style, or ability to create that style ultimately a woman’s got to have that style because she is putting on something that somebody made and I think Alber Elbaz would be my vote for today for that.
Question: What’s the worst job you’ve had in fashion?
Harriet Mays Powell: Well, I’ve worked for a couple of crazy people and that’s never very pleasant. Having an editor who changes their mind all the time is a very trying, disconcerting thing to live with because you just – you go left and suddenly they say no go right, and you say red and they say but we said blue. So, having an indecisive editor is a very painful thing in journalism, in my experience. The most difficult job, God, I’ve had pretty great jobs. I didn’t love being an assistant. I just didn’t love the schlepping of the suitcases in the trunks and coming four hours later and having to get up there four hours earlier than everybody else and having to, you know, try and iron scary dresses and not do a good job. So, I didn’t—I knew I didn’t love being an assistant and I wanted to move out of that schlep role. The schleppy role sooner rather than later.
Question: How do you choose what you wear day to day?
Harriet Mays Powell: God, you know, what? I look at the weather, and feel my mood and go into the closet and just make a pick. You know, I’m going off the question—so that’s a real considered thing because it’s a suitcase, it’s a finite amount of clothing, I have to pack for a season. I’m packing for the great cocktail party called the Fashion Week’s in Milan and Paris. I just look at the weather, and feel my mood, and go and—kind of go for it and hope that I’ve made the right decision. I have to say one of the biggest choices is, how are the heels going to be that day, or am I going for flats. So that will determine whether it’s a slightly more dressed up or slightly more casual point of view for the day.
Question: Do you ever feel poorly-dressed?
Harriet Mays Powell: Yes. Yeah, it’s that moment when you’ve got to say in the morning before you leave, "Okay, we’re good to go, I’m liking the outfit, I’m good." And then suddenly you think, "Oh God no. I’m so not right, this is so not what I should have been wearing. I’m too dressed up, I’m in feathers, and everyone else is going to be in T-shirts. I’m going to feel overly dressed." But I think one of the prerogatives of getting a little bit older is, I don’t care anymore. I’ve made my decision and this is what I’m going to wear. If I’m too dressed, I’m too dressy, oops. That’s okay. I’m a fashion editor. If I’m not dressed appropriately enough, well that’s just my personal style and choice that day. So, I think with experience comes a certain [French] habit of making decisions and sticking with them and not caring as much.
Question: What keeps you up at night?
Harriet Mays Powell: God, college tuition. I’ve got two small children and figuring that all out and the fact that when they’re getting there is just going to be a half a million dollars a year it certainly frightens me. I think that keeps – it certainly keeps my husband up a little bit and as a result of that I stay awake. I want to be able to be involved in fashion for a very long time. I love to work. Fashion Is not necessarily an industry that allows age. It’s about youth and flash-in-the-pan and things that change all the time, so I worry a bit about continuing in a meaningful way, my career going forward, and in having some importance to my existence because I don’t want to not work. I love it and I’m a better, more, I think saner and happier person because I do work and need to do that in my life. So, yeah, college tuition is kind of the—yeah sort of long-term panics I have, which are college tuition and how do you morph and still stay viable in an industry that doe not necessarily like age in the way some politics or law or other things actually embraces that, and fashion does not. So, I worry about how to be smart about going for it and getting older.
Recorded On: September 22, 2009
Big Think Interview with Harriet Mays Powell.
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Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
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Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
A customer waiting for his medication at the Headache Bar in a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia. Among the items on sale are 'Paigees with Chlorophyll' and Alka Seltzer on tap.
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>