Upending Fashion—From Niche to Mainstream, and High to Low

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]

With the advent of "Karl Lagerfeld for H&M" and eminently affordable designers like Diane Von Furstenburg and Tory Burch, Harriet Mays Powell thinks we may have seen the end of nine-handbags-a-season spending—but argues that there will always be a place for luxury.

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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.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
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  • 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. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. 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.