The Devil Wears…Whatever She Wants

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 I 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] way of making decisions and sticking with them and not caring as much.

Recorded On: September 22, 2009

Harriet Mays Powell tells us what it’s like to get dressed when you’re the one setting the trends.

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10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

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Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.