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Life In the Front Row
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 are people so fascinated by the fashion industry?
Harriet Mays Powell: Well I think 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 has gotten into bed together and it’s working nicely actually for both of them.
Question: Which celebrities have the best style
Harriet Mays Powell: 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.
Recorded On: September 22, 2009
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