Harriet Mays Powell dissects the complex relationship between the fashion capitals of the world and their clothes.
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] magical 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, indicates why the women are a little more interested in their style and their presence.
Recorded On: September 22, 2009