One Family’s Struggle to Get Their Daughter Lifesaving Medication

Zahra’s mother holds her to look outside at their small garden.
Zahra’s mother holds her to look outside at their small garden. Photo: Maryam Rahmanian for The Wall Street Journal

Khur, Iran

Six-year-old Zahra Dehghanipour suffers from a genetic disease that causes her muscles to atrophy. She wears a painful chest brace to stay upright, and has to be carried up and down the stairs in her family’s two-story home.

Her condition, spinal muscular atrophy, has a drug treatment. But her family faces many hurdles in accessing it. Cost is one: The drug, called Spinraza and made by Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen , costs $750,000 for the first year, and $375,000 annually after that.

She lives in Iran, where the drug hasn’t been approved for use. The government, which pays for a significant part of its citizens’ health care, has approved some U.S.-made drugs, but it hasn’t yet worked out a deal to bring in Spinraza.

Zahra’s mother puts Zahra’s splints on.
Zahra’s mother puts Zahra’s splints on. Photo: Maryam Rahmanian for The Wall Street Journal

Her case illustrates a challenge in modern medicine: Access to lifesaving treatments often depends on accidents of geography. “If [Zahra] were living in the U.S., she would be treated,” says Richard Finkel, chief of the neurology division at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Fla., who isn’t involved in Zahra’s case and doesn’t know the family. “It really is a country-by-country situation. That disparity is something that’s certainly bothersome to those of us who feel fortunate to be able to provide this treatment to our patients.”

Her family is desperate to find a way to access the drug. They have asked Biogen for a discount, raised funds to help cover the cost and explored moving to Germany or Turkey, where the drug is available. But all those possibilities are complicated and require navigating bureaucratic and legal obstacles. Every day, her muscle function and respiratory system weaken, the eventual cause of death for most patients. The drug isn’t a cure, but can prevent progression and, in some cases, improve the condition.

“Time is of essence for us,” says her mother, Zeynab Zareinezhad, a teacher and assistant principal at the school Zahra attends, speaking in Farsi. “Her disease is progressive. She loses more cells and neurons day by day.”

Zahra seemed a healthy baby. Her parents didn’t know something was wrong until she was about seven months or eight months old. She sat up and rolled over once but that was it. She couldn’t hold her neck upright anymore either.

SMA is a motor-neuron disease. A motor neuron sends messages to the muscles used for movement in the legs, chest, head, and other parts of the body. In patients with SMA, the motor neurons in the spinal cord don’t have enough of an important protein, so they stop working and eventually die, resulting in a decline in muscle function. Eventually patients have limited use of their hands and may need respiratory support and feeding tubes.

Although a relatively rare disease, SMA in its severest form is the largest genetic cause of death in infants. About 1 in 11,000 children are born with SMA world-wide annually and roughly 1% to 2% of the population are carriers of the genetic mutation, Dr. Finkel says.

After seeing doctors and having a genetic test, Zahra was diagnosed with SMA type 2 when she was 16 months old. Unlike patients with SMA type 1, who often die when they are babies, type 2 patients can live until early adulthood, or later, but eventually die from pulmonary complications.

Already, Zahra’s respiratory muscles are wearing away, her parents say, making a minor cold or cough a dangerous medical event as coughing is difficult for her.

Zahra’s dad helps her do her homework.
Zahra’s dad helps her do her homework. Photo: Maryam Rahmanian for The Wall Street Journal

Though her body is deteriorating, cognitively Zahra shines, her parents say. She loves homework. She can memorize a mobile-phone number after hearing it twice. She likes to count backward from 100 and can multiply two-digit numbers. At school, her classmates play hide and seek during recess and she watches. “She doesn’t show that she is envious of them,” Mrs. Zareinezhad says.

Gholamreza Zamani, the pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Tehran who treats Zahra, says Spinraza’s effectiveness depends on when it’s started. Though not a cure, “this drug can affect her quality of life and prevent more regression in her motor function,” he says. So much scientific effort and money goes into making such treatments, says Dr. Zamani, but “if the patient who needs it can’t access it, what’s the purpose?”

Until recently, SMA had no treatment. In December 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved nusinersen, sold under the brand name Spinraza. It is injected into the spinal fluid through a spinal tap.

Zahra stands at the staircase with her splints on. Though her body is deteriorating, cognitively Zahra shines, her parents say.
Zahra stands at the staircase with her splints on. Though her body is deteriorating, cognitively Zahra shines, her parents say. Photo: Maryam Rahmanian for The Wall Street Journal

In a clinical trial, Spinraza was found to be effective in up to 51% of patients with type 1, significantly slowing the disease’s progression, in addition to improving their strength and lifespan. A clinical trial published in NEJM last year showed for type 2 patients like Zahra there were improvements in motor function and upper limb function after 15 months but the improvements weren’t dramatic as those seen in type 1 patients. One patient regained the ability to walk with assistance.

Zahra’s family submitted a request to Biogen for a discount or compassionate use of Spinraza in October. A spokesman for Biogen said via email that the company has been in communication with the family and “will provide them an update once there is a development on registration,” a first step in getting the drug approved for use in Iran. In January, Biogen said company representatives “were in Iran this month for meetings with the government and continue to work on registration.”

“We recognize the gravity of this situation and considerable work has been under way the past few weeks,” the Biogen spokesman said. “The complicating factor in Zahra’s case is her location in Iran. We are working with the Iranian Minister of Health on the first step of registration.”

Mahdi Shadnoush, an Iranian health-ministry official who said he’s not familiar with Zahra’s specific case, said that even if the drug were approved for import, U.S. sanctions present a hurdle because global banks are reluctant to arrange a transaction with Iran. U.S. rules exempt medical goods from sanctions, but many banks still hesitate to arrange trade deals with Iran after having incurred fines during previous rounds of sanctions.

Mr. Shadnoush says there are at least 600 cases of SMA in Iran.

Zahra’s parents say they would travel to a country where Spinraza is approved, such as Germany or Turkey, if they could raise enough money to buy the drug there. (A Biogen spokesman says the treatment is available in more than 40 countries and the company is seeking to make the treatment available in more.) The family raised some funds but a crash in the value of the Iranian rial slashed that amount.

Zahra’s family has an attorney friend in the U.S. who hopes to raise money from U.S. donors, but sanctions complicate those efforts. U.S. restrictions dating back to 2013 require nongovernmental organizations making donations to Iran to follow parameters laid out in a general license, and cap donations at $500,000 a year unless an additional license is granted, a U.S. Treasury spokesman said. Personal, noncommercial remittances to Iran or Iranian residents in other countries are generally allowed but money raised to pay for a medical treatment might require a specific license, the spokesman added.

Biogen has programs that provide discounted or free access to drugs for patients who meet certain criteria, but that path is complicated too. Zahra isn’t eligible for one of the main programs because only patients with type 1 qualify, which would be the case even if she were in the U.S.

Zahra’s family tries to take pleasure in simple things. They help her on the slide in the playground. They take her to the countryside twice a year because she loves to go on trips.

“She really hopes that the treatment will make her a normal child and plans a normal future for her,” Mrs. Zareinezhad says. “She has chosen her bicycle, future car, job. But right now, time is critical for us and we should be able to access Spinraza as soon as possible to slow down the progression.”

Treatments on the Horizon

Other companies are working on treatments for spinal muscular atrophy. Roche and Novartis are developing oral medications similar to Spinraza, says Richard Finkel, chief of the neurology division at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Fla., who is a paid consultant and working on clinical trials for all the biotech companies working on SMA treatments.

Further along is a gene-therapy treatment from AveXis, a Novartis company, called AVXS-101, currently before the FDA. Federal regulators are expected to make a decision by May but the therapy would likely be initially for type 1 patients only. The company has also applied to regulatory agencies in Japan and the European Union for approval.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at

More From Your Health

Can Suicide Be Prevented?

Can Suicide Be Prevented?
Photo: Getty Images/iStock

The suicide death rate in most states has risen sharply since in the late 1990s, according to data released in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 25 states recording increases of more than 30% during that time. In 2017, the national suicide rate rose 3.7%, the sharpest annual increase in nearly a decade.

Melanie Harned, a psychologist who specializes in suicide prevention, discussed what to do when you think someone is suicidal and explained Dialectical Behavior Therapy, an approach that research shows can be effective at reducing suicidal thoughts and attempts. Dr. Harned is the coordinator of the DBT program at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and a senior research scientist in the department of psychology at the University of Washington. She has been researching DBT and how to prevent suicide in high-risk populations—including adolescents and people with PTSD, borderline personality and opioid dependence—for 14 years. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Can suicide be prevented?

Absolutely. There are indirect warning signs to look for, things like increased hopelessness, viewing oneself as a burden, more substance use, a change in sleep patterns, withdrawing from activities, aggression. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a list on their website. There are also more direct indicators: Is the person thinking of killing themself? Are they communicating intent to anyone?

The biggest risk factor is that the person has attempted suicide before. Access to lethal means, such as a firearm or medication, is another consideration. Suicide is very often an impulsive decision. Most people who attempted suicide and survived said they thought about killing themselves for less than an hour before they acted. So you want to restrict their access to the means to hurt themselves, to prevent the impulsive attempt.

One of the biggest interventions is to simply ask someone if they are thinking about suicide and if they have a plan. They may not give an honest answer because of shame or the fear that someone will throw them into a hospital. But if you ask in a caring, compassionate way, a person will be more likely to disclose their intent than if they were just left on their own.

A core part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, says Dr. Melanie Harned, is teaching patients to live in the present moment with awareness and without judgment.
A core part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, says Dr. Melanie Harned, is teaching patients to live in the present moment with awareness and without judgment. Photo: Chris Pacheco/VA Puget Sound

How do you ask?

You don’t want to sound judgmental. Don’t say: “What is wrong with you?” or “How could you imagine doing that to yourself?”

Ask: “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” And express compassion and care. Communicate to the depressed person that their thoughts and behaviors make sense, that many people think of killing themselves.

A common fear is that if you ask someone if they are thinking of suicide this will give them the idea and they will go do it. Research shows this is not true. It gives them an opportunity to talk about it. Most people who are thinking of killing themselves don’t want to be dead. What they want is relief from some sort of pain that is intolerable.

What should you do if you suspect someone is suicidal?

Try to connect the person to professional care. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can provide resources and give advice on what to do. Its hotline is 800-273-8255. You should try to restrict the person’s access to lethal means, such as medications and guns. And if a person is showing an intention to act you should not leave them alone until they get connected with care. If it’s a really high-risk situation, take them to the emergency room.

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

It’s a treatment that balances cognitive behavioral therapy with acceptance strategies taken from Zen philosophy and Eastern practice. CBT is very change-focused. You have a problem and we are going to help you solve it. It teaches patients a lot of skills—how to better manage and regulate their emotions, how to have stronger relationships and communicate effectively. DBT layers in acceptance strategies, helping people accept reality as it is in this moment and their pain. It doesn’t mean they can’t change it. But in order to change pain you need to accept you are in it. The overall goal of this treatment is to help patients build a life that they experience as worth living.

How does DBT work?

There are four components: individual therapy; a group-therapy component that is less like traditional group therapy and more of a skills-training class; phone coaching between sessions—the therapist is available 24/7 to take calls; and a therapist-consultation team.

What does DBT teach patients?

Four sets of skills. The core set is mindfulness skills. Mindfulness is about learning to live in the present moment with awareness and without judgment. It’s in this treatment because if you can’t pay attention to the present moment and just the facts and reality of it, then it is really hard to make wise and effective decisions on how to act.

The next set of skills is distress tolerance. Some of these are crisis-survival skills. They teach you how to get through a high-stress situation without doing anything to make it worse. If you are having urges to kill yourself, these skills will get you through the crisis period without acting on those urges. There are also reality-acceptance skills. Acceptance does not mean giving up or not trying to change. It means accepting that in this particular moment this is reality. Denying or suppressing pain actually makes it worse.

The third set of skills is emotion regulation. One way to change your emotions is to reduce your vulnerability to having intense emotions in the first place. You can do this by making sure you are regularly doing pleasurable things, getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising. And once an emotion has gotten started, there are strategies you can use to reduce the intensity of it. The fourth skill set focuses on interpersonal effectiveness. We teach people how to build and maintain relationships, how to get what they want and say no to things they don’t, how to maintain their own self-respect.

How does DBT treat suicidal

First, we target it. The standard approach is to treat suicide as a symptom of another problem, such as depression. You treat the depression and see if this makes the suicidal behavior stop. DBT is different because it makes targeting the life-threatening behavior the number-one priority.

One really important piece of DBT is we do everything we can to keep people out of psychiatric hospitals. Ultimately people don’t live in hospitals, so we need them to be able to manage suicidal urges in their everyday life.

It also uses a very structured assessment and problem-solving technique called chain analysis. We try to look moment-to-moment at the chain of events that led up to and followed whatever the behavior is—either a suicide attempt or self-harm urges becoming high—so we can see what to change.

Validation also plays a big part. We communicate to patients that they are understandable and acceptable exactly as they are.

Further Reading

To read BONDS columns on depression:

A Tennis Purist Who Became a Pickleball Pro

Ken Curry, a cardiologist in Kennewick, Wash., swapped his tennis racket for a pickleball paddle. He plays four days a week at the Yakima Tennis Club.
Ken Curry, a cardiologist in Kennewick, Wash., swapped his tennis racket for a pickleball paddle. He plays four days a week at the Yakima Tennis Club. Photo: Ryan Henriksen for The Wall Street Journal

If you’re a hard-core tennis lover, it’s hard to take a sport called pickleball seriously. There’s the funny name. You serve underhand and hit something that looks like a Wiffle ball. Ken Curry snubbed the game for years. “I thought it was a geezer sport,” he says.

Dr. Curry, a cardiologist in Kennewick, Wash., has tennis bona fides. He played on the Colorado State University-Pueblo team, and after graduation he postponed medical school to pursue a tennis career that lasted 1½ years. In his prime, he held a world ranking and in 1978 he reached the Australian Open, though he didn’t make it out of the qualifying rounds.

Dr. Curry’s brother, Dan Curry, who also played college tennis, finally convinced him in 2012 to try pickleball, a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. “My brother was always raving about it and nagging me to pick up a paddle,” he says. “After one game, I was hooked.”

Dr. Curry, right, practices pickleball drills with Grant Harris, left.
Dr. Curry, right, practices pickleball drills with Grant Harris, left. Photo: Ryan Henriksen for The Wall Street Journal

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in America, with more than 3 million participants, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The association’s 2017 pickleball participant report showed that nearly 43% of core players are 65 or older. Dr. Curry, 64, had his hip replaced in 2013, and says that after decades of hitting overhead smashes and lunging to the net, a hard tennis match leaves him aching.

A smaller court and slower balls make pickleball a low-impact alternative. “I haven’t picked up a tennis racket in two years and don’t miss it,” Dr. Curry says.

Dr. Curry plays both singles and doubles but prefers playing with a partner. “I enjoy the strategy and teamwork,” he says. He competes in six to eight tournaments a year and has played in the USA Pickleball national championships four times. He and his brother finished third in the men’s doubles 50+ category in 2014. The following year, Dr. Curry won gold in the singles 60+ category. He plans to compete in the championships again this year after taking time off for family commitments.

The family pickleball obsession seems to be contagious. Dr. Curry’s adult son, Parker, is a pickleball pro in Colorado Springs, Colo. One of his two grown daughters dabbles in the sport and his Australian son-in-law, Nick Cooper, won gold at the 2018 Australian pickleball nationals. Even his wife, Patty Curry, who swore she’d never get on the court with him again, has taken to the game. “I turned her off tennis after putting her through years of drills, but she appreciates the pickleball workouts and is climbing up the ranks.”

Dr. Curry, right, competes in up to eight pickleball tournaments a year. He says the sport is a low-impact alternative to tennis.
Dr. Curry, right, competes in up to eight pickleball tournaments a year. He says the sport is a low-impact alternative to tennis. Photo: Ryan Henriksen for The Wall Street Journal
The Workout

Dr. Curry plays pickleball three to four times a week, for two to three hours. He does drills for 75% of the workout, then plays games for the duration. The sport is played with wooden paddles and a plastic, perforated ball on a short, square court. The net is hung at 34 inches, compared with 36 inches for tennis, and there is a 7-foot no-volley zone on each side of the net. Players score when the other side can’t return a shot. The first side to reach 11 points with a two-point lead wins.

“The small court makes the game quicker than tennis,” Dr. Curry says. “There are so many more possibilities in terms of what you can do with the ball. Because the ball bounce is shorter, there’s a lot of lunging, which requires a strong core.”

He spends a lot of time perfecting the dink, a higher, softer shot hit from the no-volley zone that stays low going over the net and drops quickly in the opposing no-volley zone. “It’s the most important shot,” he says. “You can’t hit the ball through people. You have to learn patience and hit soft and then rush the net. It’s like a game of cat and mouse.” On the court, he says his goal is to hit soft to his opponent’s feet up to 90% of the time, whether it’s with a forward dink, or a cross-court or backhand dink.

He incorporates yoga poses into his five-day-a-week stretching routine.

The Diet

Each morning, Dr. Curry makes a smoothie of spinach, chia seeds, frozen fruit, fruit juice and protein powder. He drinks half, along with a bowl of granola, for breakfast and freezes the rest for the evening. He has lunch at the hospital cafeteria, usually chicken and a side vegetable. After a brief stint going paleo, he says he rarely eats dairy, wheat or sugar. Dinner is often fish and a salad. His favorite splurge is his wife’s chocolate chip cookies and the cookies from New York City bakery Levain.

The Gear & Cost

Dr. Curry plays on the Selkirk Sport team and gets discounts on products from the paddle manufacturer. He plays with a Selkirk Amped Invikta midweight paddle ($150). He wears Asics sneakers and likes Thorlos socks ($16) for their double thickness. “When you’re drilling balls nonstop for 90 minutes, you need good cushioning,” he says. He plays outdoors on the free courts at Lawrence Scott Park and indoors at Tri-City Court Club, both in Kennewick. His membership at the club is $85 a month.

Pickleball is played with a paddle and perforated ball. The sound of the two connecting can be distracting to tennis players on nearby courts.
Pickleball is played with a paddle and perforated ball. The sound of the two connecting can be distracting to tennis players on nearby courts. Photo: Ryan Henriksen for The Wall Street Journal

A Truce Between Pickleball and Tennis

When pickleball first came on the scene in the late 1960s, it was met with disdain by many tennis purists. Many found the sound of the ball hitting the paddle annoying and didn’t want to share court time. They got irked when pickleballers lowered the net or taped the tennis court to adjust the lines of play. And many considered the game child’s play. “The first hesitation is always the name,” admits Tony Giannoni, a mental performance consultant in Orlando, Fla., who works with tennis players. “Why would a serious sport have this peculiar name?”

It’s taken some time, but attitudes are slowly changing. Even tennis greats like Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi have given the game a go. Mr. Giannoni says when he first observed pickleball, the game didn’t look very athletic. When he tried it, he was surprised by how intense the sport could be, but also by how it improved his tennis game. “It’s helped me be more patient on the tennis court,” he says. “You use your volley a lot more than you use your groundstroke in pickleball, and I now have a stronger volley in my tennis game.”

Justin Maloof, executive director of the U.S. Pickleball Association, believes the noise complaint is what originally drove a wedge between tennis and pickleball players. He says new partnerships, like a blended pickleball line program initiative with the U.S. Tennis Association, can benefit both sports. In February, the Professional Tennis Registry and the Professional Pickleball Registry in Hilton Head Island, S.C., organizations that educate and certify coaches, will even debut a new program called Pick Ten that will teach both pickleball and tennis in 10 sessions.

What’s your workout? Tell us at

More From What’s Your Workout

Is That Wine You’ve Been Hoarding Actually Valuable?

A few months ago I stopped by an estate sale at one of the most beautiful houses in my town. I bought a couple things I didn’t need and ended up talking with the owner of the home. When he found out what I do for a living, he asked if I would have a look at his cellar. He had two old bottles of Dom Pérignon Champagne he thought might be valuable.

I felt a cold clutch of fear. It wasn’t the first time someone had told me about a bottle of wine that he or she thought might be worth a small fortune. I’m sorry to report this…

The Best (and Worst) Ways to Make Your Phone Battery Last

The Best (and Worst) Ways to Make Your Phone Battery Last
Illustration: PETE RYAN

If you’re out late with friends and your phone battery is dwindling, these smart, easy tips will ensure you make it through the night:

> First, dim your screen’s brightness and flip to “low power” mode. That’ll give you an extra hour or so of battery (for emergencies only).

> You should also close any draining apps—especially games, maps, social media. And click off location services so the GPS isn’t working overtime. Wait, who are FaceTiming?

> Always stash an Anker portable charger in your bag too. Its PowerIQ helps “deliver an optimum, high-speed charge to all devices.”

> Of course your Anker isn’t working. You used up all the charges three days ago.

> OK. Just keep the phone on airplane mode for now. That should stop your cellular data and Wi-Fi from sapping the battery.

> Seriously, stop turning off airplane mode just to text everyone about how you’re turning on airplane mode.

> Sure, go chat up the bartender. See if he’ll give you a quick charge.

> Are you streaming “Bird Box” right now?

> Yes. Fine. Scream at the phone for 20-30 minutes. I’m sure sonic vibrations will give you a little power—enough to hail an Uber.

> How can an Uber driver not have a phone charger?! This is America!

> Stick your phone out the window. I think the mixture of moonlight and wind power should get you out of the red.

> OK, give me your keys. I read this thing about Ben Franklin recently…

> For the love of god, stop tweeting about your plummeting battery!

> Yes, you’re right, I’m sure some body heat would warm up the lithium ion if we jog a quick marathon or two.

> No, of course you’re smart enough to invent cold fusion. Just maybe not tonight.

> Put. The jumper cables. Down.

> Are you sure the bartender said it was “cool” to crawl though his condo’s window to borrow a power cord? Are those sirens?

> No. No, you absolutely cannot plug your phone in there. Can’t you see the nice officer is charging his stun gun?

The Hottest Hair Color of the Moment Is…Gray

The Hottest Hair Color of the Moment is...Gray
Illustration: Sean McCabe

I thought I found my first gray hair yesterday, and I got so excited,” said 30-year-old Larkin Brown. Um, OK. When I confronted my own first grays a few years back, I was less “excited” and more “existentially panicked.” But attitudes toward gray are shifting. As a researcher and in-house stylist for the San Francisco visual-discovery engine Pinterest, Ms. Brown has recently been submerged in photos of women of all ages flaunting hair that is assertively and fashionably gray. Younger women are dyeing their locks in shades from slate to titanium, and those who are naturally fading are embracing their color.

On Pinterest—which reported an 879% jump in the use of the search term “going gray” from 2017 to 2018—you can find photos of platinum-haired women, including: one sporting gray and blue dreadlocks; brides with twisted silver updos; writer Joan Didion with a sterling bob in a 2015 Celine ad; and scores of stars who’ve made gray the latest outré status color, from Ariana Grande’s silken white strands to the steely cornrows on “The Hunger Games” actress Amandla Stenberg. Lady Gaga, an early adopter, recently tinged her icy Golden Globes updo with lilac. At a yoga class this week, I contorted behind a woman with short ashy hair who could have been 17 or 71 from the back. The new gray hair is more intentional than accidental.

Humans have been dyeing hair since the Ancient Egyptian era, but natural dyes like henna and chemical goop like Clairol’s game-changing 1950s home formulas have mostly focused on covering up rather than accentuating hair that’s lost its pigment. The last time gray hair was this hot was probably the 1700s, when Marie Antoinette types would dust wigs with white powder scented with lavender or orange flower.

On-purpose gray has come a long way since 18th-century rice flour. “More and more companies including our own are offering formulas to achieve silver hair,” said Annie Hu, the marketing director for color and texture at hair care company Joico, which counts Titanium among its top-five best-selling dye shades. Going gray if your hair is, say, brown demands a major commitment, involving multiple bleachings. Even embracing your natural gray can entail a lot of salon time to phase out existing dye. “Hair is a science experiment,” cautioned 33-year-old New York stylist Brittan White, who colors her own hair dove gray and counts dozens of unnatural silver foxes and fox-ettes among her clients. And gray is particularly tricky to get right.

STREAK QUEENS Perhaps even more striking than allover gray is the skunk-like addition of one supremely stylish white streak. Just ask Susan Sontag, Cruella De Vil or Daphne Guinness. A brazen white streak can also connote magical powers in the cartoon world (think Rogue in ’X-Men’).
STREAK QUEENS Perhaps even more striking than allover gray is the skunk-like addition of one supremely stylish white streak. Just ask Susan Sontag, Cruella De Vil or Daphne Guinness. A brazen white streak can also connote magical powers in the cartoon world (think Rogue in ’X-Men’). Illustration: Sean McCabe

So when I explored dyeing my hair (which is normally reddish, boosted with highlights) fully gray for this story, pros quickly nixed the idea. They dissuaded me from spending multiple days at the salon submitting to arduous bleaching. Instead, New York editorial hair stylist Edward Lampley devised a temporary alternative: I’d spend one day with a grayish-violet powdered updo and another capped by a more extreme grayish-blonde wig. Not exactly Cruella de Vil, but enough for me to glean what it might feel like to be a 30-something gray-haired woman.

“Is this a Gaga thing?!” asked an esteemed colleague on Grayish-Violet Updo Day, near the (actual) water cooler. I was mortified that people might think I’d been enthusiastic enough about the singer’s recent Golden Globes look to spend two hours re-creating it for work. But, like Gaga’s, the dusty French twist was clearly artificial and, judging by the mostly encouraging feedback, striking. I’d absolutely recreate it for a special night out in the hopes of looking like a low-rent version of streaky-haired heiress Daphne Guinness.

Grayish-Blonde Wig Day was less successful. A sampling of reactions, from a day at the office and an after-work art opening: “It changes your look radically”; “Just…no”; “Not flattering”; “You don’t look healthy”; and, most worryingly, “Are you OK?”

That reception may have been tinged by the lumpy shape of the cheapo wig I wore. But the ashy color did wash out my complexion in a Crypt Keeper kind of way. Gray hair—fake or natural—must jive with your coloring to work. When it does, the results can be splendid: It was only after 60-year-old New York set designer Jocelyne Beaudoin stopped coloring her curly blondish-gray hair that she became a style icon, modeling for brands like Rachel Comey. Inspired by Meryl Streep’s fierce white-haired editor in “A Devil Wears Prada,” Ms. Beaudoin underwent a nearly-two-year process to transition from colored to natural hair, finding that it complemented her fair skin and blue eyes. “As you get older, for certain skin colors, it’s softer around your face. That’s more flattering.”

KEEP IT COOL To counteract yellowing tresses, products with cool blue tones are essential for gray hair. Some options, from left: Amika Conditioner, $24,; Klorane Shampoo, $15,; Joico Toning Foam, $22,; Touch-Up Spray, $32,; Sachajuan Shampoo, $28,
KEEP IT COOL To counteract yellowing tresses, products with cool blue tones are essential for gray hair. Some options, from left: Amika Conditioner, $24,; Klorane Shampoo, $15,; Joico Toning Foam, $22,; Touch-Up Spray, $32,; Sachajuan Shampoo, $28, Photo: F. Martin Ramin/ The Wall Street Journal

She did feel compelled to adjust her makeup and wardrobe when she went gray, swapping red lipstick for toned-down pinky reds, and switching out more starkly colored clothing for softer grays, camels and creams. While the exact palette adjustment depends on your natural coloring, most women agreed that gray hair requires…something. When I popped that platinum wig on, I immediately fled to the office bathroom to rim my eyes with navy eye liner. The hair stylist Ms. White said, “I feel like I definitely need a little bit of a blush, or some kind of a lip thing, even if it’s just a neutral color.”

But let’s get down to silver tacks: Is gray aging? Not necessarily on younger women, who benefit from the contrast between a fresh face and silvery hair, as evidenced by British editor and street-style star Sarah Harris, who is in her 30s. Rhiannon Gardier, 38, an Arizona stay-at-home mother who chronicles her natural “silver curl journey” on social media, said, “People think that it’s aging, and it’s not. Every time people give me a compliment, it’s always followed with, ‘You have such a young face—you look like you’re 20.’” As for those whose faces show their age, some of the over-50 women I spoke to enthused that they felt less “invisible” once they’d gone gray, and that their hair looked healthier.

Plus, looking young is not necessarily the point. “What nonsensical piece of logic in society says that women should always have hair that looks like they’re 26?” asked Wieden and Kennedy’s co-president Colleen DeCourcy, who stopped coloring her sleek bob three years ago at age 50. As the leader of an international ad agency, she hopes to set a positive example for the young women she encounters: “I didn’t want the first things I was trying to accomplish to be pretty or young. I wanted it to be: wise, don’t give a f—, authentic, empowered.”

1. Matte Dove Appearances aside, I don’t coo. 2. Streaky Lavender I have 56,000 Instagram followers. 3. Pure White Don’t get me near that red wine. 4. Light Ash I’m president of the Khaleesi fan club. 5. Deep Gunmetal Get out of my way. Out!
1. Matte Dove Appearances aside, I don’t coo. 2. Streaky Lavender I have 56,000 Instagram followers. 3. Pure White Don’t get me near that red wine. 4. Light Ash I’m president of the Khaleesi fan club. 5. Deep Gunmetal Get out of my way. Out! Photo: F. Martin Ramin/ The Wall Street Journal

Annie Hu of Joico connected the trend to a larger movement toward transparency in beauty: “We’re at a time when we are embracing so much individuality and authenticity.” For the young women painstakingly dyeing their hair gray at great cost, it’s more about the illusion of authenticity, which makes sense in the context of a style moment which emphasizes prominent eyeglasses and Eileen Fisher-inspired turtlenecks. Old is in.

But as with any outside-of-the-box trend, women in creative industries can experiment more freely than those in traditionally buttoned-up workplaces. New York-based finance wizard and Wall Street trailblazer Alexandra Lebenthal, 54, admitted, “It makes me sad to say it, but I cannot see a woman at a big corporation deciding to do that. You’re not really supposed to step out of the mold.” On the other hand, Ms. Beaudoin thinks that her set-design career was actually boosted by her gray ’do. “My business is such a business of youth that I’ve always been so concerned about how I was going to age out of my job,” she confessed. “But since I’m not trying to hide my age, and I’m embracing it, people respect that. Plus, it looks good. I work mostly in fashion, and you have to look good.”

When I tested grayish styles at our casual office, my colleagues seemed more concerned with how the shades worked with my outfits (and how long my wig wrap took) than whether it aged me. I did avoid wearing my glasses, though, nervous about looking more like Mrs. Claus than a fashion editor. I’d like to think that when my gray takes over, I’ll be as empowered to own it as Ms. DeCourcy—life goals!—but it’s hard to imagine losing the color that connects me to my mom, brothers and daughter, all redheads to some degree.

In a 2011 episode of “The Simpsons” called “The Blue and the Gray,” Marge is inspired by a sprightly platinum-haired woman to dye her naturally blue beehive gray. When she comes home her daughter Lisa says, “I know I use the word ‘empowering’ a lot, but this time it really is that!” When Marge returns to cobalt after mixed reactions, she wonders if she’s copping out, but Lisa reassures her, “As a feminist, virtually anything a woman does is empowering!” Matt Groening’s tiny philosopher is right: It’s not the color that’s liberating, it’s the option to choose whichever color you’d like.

Does He or Doesn’t He?

For men of steel, dyeing is a different game—all about leaving just enough gray that you look…plausible

MR. SLATE George Clooney’s salt-and-pepper coif is a look men’s products aim to simulate.
MR. SLATE George Clooney’s salt-and-pepper coif is a look men’s products aim to simulate. Photo: Getty Images

Women think men have it nice ‘n’ easy when it comes to our hair’s eventual loss of pigment. According to a 2019 report by market-research firm Mintel, when women were asked if it’s more “acceptable” for a man to go gray than a woman, they were significantly more likely than guys to agree. Mintel’s findings suggest that men find conspicuous aging relatively treacherous, yet only four in 10 considered it socially acceptable to color their hair.

In my experience, men dread the prospect of being caught with fake, shoe-polish locks—known as “Dracula cap”—but aren’t nuts either about going entirely mad-scientist gray like the dotty Dr. Emmett Brown in “Back to the Future.” The desirable compromise? “Salt-and-pepper has a level of sophistication that can be mouthwatering,” stylist Mary Alice Stephenson told this paper in 2013.

Bizarrely, I desired this mouthwatering look when I was only 21, a strapping art student with a full head of lame mousey hair. I had grown up in the backwater of Edmonton, Canada, craving sophistication, the sort of 12-year-old who wrote pestering letters to Manhattan ad agencies for tips on “breaking into the business.” I convinced one of my art-college friends to attempt to dye my hair “salt-and-pepper” in his moldy bathroom.

It turned out mauve.

Twenty years later, fate got around to more accurately fulfilling my dreams. I had a passably glamorous publishing job in New York and drab hair that was naturally distinguished by a heavy sprinkling of gray at the temples. I fretted over this. I looked, to put it politely, like a sophisticated old fart.

I’ve since heard of younger Wall Street types or assistant district attorneys who ask their stylists to dust their hair with gray to command more respect at work or even to look sexier, but I’m pretty sure no one’s mouth was watering at the sight of my head.

The gray colonized more and more of my scalp. After unsatisfying dalliances with Clairol’s Natural Instincts home coloring kits (it’s natural! it’s instinctive!) whose artificial-looking tints washed out over time, I gave up. For years.

Then one day a stylist tempted me with Redken’s Color Camo process, promising it would blend in pigment but leave just enough gray to avoid Dracula cap. I would, she assured me, be a near-dead-ringer for George Clooney after she was done. Instead, my hair looked like a cheap faux fur, uniformly minkish in tone. “I think I left it in too long,” she murmured, almost to herself.

That plausible, salt-and-pepper Clooney effect has been the Holy Grail for graying men since Grecian Formula 16, the first notable coloring product for men, debuted in 1962. To reassure guys that “[getting] rid of some of the gray but not all of it” is a manly pursuit, its maker, Combe, cast its commercials with athletes like MLB all-star Pete Rose and Oakland Raider George Blanda (“no phony dye job for me”), claiming its pointedly colorless potion was “as easy to use as water.” Even at 21, I viewed this skeptically, and now that I’m almost entirely, resignedly gray, I find it far easier to stick to actual water.

Dare to Cook Photo-Free (And Love It So Much More)

Hard as it is to fathom in an age when we Instagram every plate and sauté with one eye on YouTube, cookbooks once came without photos.

There is, after all, information an image can’t convey. “A photograph doesn’t tell you what to do when the meat is dry or the chicken is old and tough,” said Matt Sartwell, managing partner of the New York City bookshop Kitchen Arts & Letters.


Why Boxing Is the Best Workout of 2019

HIT PARADE Title Boxing Club’s redesigned gyms feature classes inspired by pro pugilists’ workouts.
HIT PARADE Title Boxing Club’s redesigned gyms feature classes inspired by pro pugilists’ workouts.

At Rumble, a Manhattan fitness studio that could pass for a more hardcore version of SoulCycle, a swanky white entry decked in emoji-like logos and pop art leads to a crimson-lit workout room. Instead of bikes, however, the room is filled with bags, swinging under heavy assault.

Rumble—which launched in New York in 2016 before expanding to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and last year sold a minority stake to luxury mega-gym Equinox—is at the forefront of the boutique-ification of boxing, a sport more likely to evoke the sweaty ambience of “Rocky” than a Victoria’s Secret outlet. The combat sport has evolved into something a casual gym-goer might try. Among the catalysts: social media-savvy supermodels like Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Adriana Lima, and stylish male celebs like David Beckham, Chris Hemsworth, and Scott Eastwood—all of whom happily Instagram jabs and crosses.

“Celebrities started showing that boxing didn’t have to be grungy,” said Andy Stenzler, Rumble’s CEO. “That you didn’t have to hit each other to get a great workout.” Boxing may be a centuries-old sport, but the combination of inviting spaces, trainers who aren’t bullies and circuit-style classes feels fresh.

The action at Rumble.
The action at Rumble.

Aspiring sluggers spend half of each session clobbering the bags, the other half executing strength exercises using body weight, dumbbells and lighter brass knuckle weights ($36/class, $3 to rent gloves,

At Rumble, the glossy leather gloves don’t reek of sweat; they’re stored on ski-boot heaters that kill bacteria. The teardrop-shaped bags don’t hurt your wrists; they’re filled with water, more forgiving than sand. And the sequences—described in punchy graphics beamed along the crown of each studio’s wall and synchronized to music—are easy to follow. There’s no fear of getting struck in the face by a classmate, either. “We want it to be fun, not intimidating,” said Mr. Stenzler.

Subtract the combat and boxing is still a killer total-body workout. “You’re constantly moving,” explained Chris Gagliardi, a certified personal trainer with the American Council of Exercise. “It’s challenging muscular endurance, strength, flexibility, body composition, your brain. You’re working on power, speed, balance, agility, coordination. It’s a lot of bang for your buck,” he said.

“You’re exhausted, dripping sweat, and have worked so hard you can’t hold your arms up,” added account executive Minna Ramos, 26, who trains at Rumble in New York. “But you walk out feeling confident, inspired. That’s what keeps me going.”

People just want to go hit something, and boxing is great to alleviate that stress in a very healthy way.

Americans have re-embraced boxing for reasons beyond the appeal of smart marketing and body benefits. “The world is more stressed than ever,” said Susan Boresow, president of Title Boxing Club, which was founded in 2008 and now operates more than 175 studios in the U.S. “People just want to go hit something, and boxing is a great way to alleviate that stress in a very healthy way.”

While Title’s gyms were originally designed with cage paneling and a dark, gritty atmosphere that paid homage to pugilists, the chain undertook a redesign influenced by the success of boutique gyms when it began franchising in 2012. “We rebranded with a brighter, cleaner look,” said Ms. Boresow—better lighting, light wood floors, pops of red. Title’s noncontact HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes are inspired by workouts performed by pros like WBA welterweight champ Manny Pacquiao. And for today’s fitness-tracking nerds, some clubs feature bags with innovative sensors that measure how hard and how frequently you hit, displaying scores on wall-mounted TVs (memberships from $59/mo.,

Meanwhile, Rumble is taking things further with At Home 360, a Peloton-esque venture that combines a Technogym boxing bag ($1,700, with a $39/mo. subscription for live and on-demand Rumble classes streamed to your smartphone.

Other cleaned-up gyms offer noncontact circuit classes: There’s Everybody Fights, in Boston and Kentucky; Shadowbox in Brooklyn, Dallas and Austin; and L.A.’s Mayweather Boxing + Fitness, owned by former world champ Floyd Mayweather, which plans to add 500 gyms in the next five years.

“It was just a matter of time before it became more appealing to the masses, thanks to the popularity of UFC and MMA,” said Mr. Gagliardi. “Now you have bright, open environments where you can still be hardcore”—a classic one-two punch.

PUNCH UP YOUR GYM BAG // Breaking in Your Own Boxing Gear Can Lead to a Better Workout
Why Boxing Is the Best Workout of 2019

Everlast 1910 Gloves The name of these classic mitts pays homage to the year the iconic brand was born, but details, like premium leather, a ventilated palm and a flexible fit, are all modern. $80,

Why Boxing Is the Best Workout of 2019

Sanabul Elastic Pro Boxing Wraps Hand wraps keep sweat from KO’ing your gloves, but often harbor that stench instead. This set is made of a breathable polyester blend that won’t irritate skin. $7,

Why Boxing Is the Best Workout of 2019

Reebok Boxing Boot Rereleased in 2018 with a new mid-cut design to allow for more flexibility, these boxing boots are crucial for nailing all that Ali-esque footwork without rolling an ankle. $100,

Why Boxing Is the Best Workout of 2019

Title Weighted Plastic Speed Rope Skipping rope is one of the most effective forms of cardio for improving endurance, balance and footwork; weighted handles add an extra challenge. $13,

Cambodia: The Chicest New Beach Destination in Asia

OVERLOOKED NO MORE Cambodia's Six Senses Krabey Island resort, slated to open in March, is one of a crop of new resorts on the country's southern coast.
OVERLOOKED NO MORE Cambodia’s Six Senses Krabey Island resort, slated to open in March, is one of a crop of new resorts on the country’s southern coast. Photo: Six Senses

Mention Cambodia to a reasonably worldly traveler and she’ll invariably picture Angkor Wat, the sprawling temple complex in the jungle’s depths. Tourists tend to squeeze the millennia-old site into a grander tour of Southeast Asia, their sole whistle-stop in the country. But for a 21st-century perspective on Cambodia’s assets, you’d be wise to look to the coastline, which unfurls some 275 miles between Thailand and Vietnam. Over the past few years, the southern stretch, dotted with islands, has been morphing from bucolic backwater into a bona fide beach destination, with resorts rapidly materializing.

The area’s main gateway is Sihanoukville, a port city named for a former king. An increasing number of regional flights bring in a hodgepodge of sunseekers—weekenders from the capital Phnom Penh, European tourists on package holidays and backpackers looking to disconnect on the beach. Not too long ago, this small seaside city had the languor of a sleepy beach town. Now, casinos with names like Wisney World dot its blocks, the constant whine of grinders and circular saws backdrops conversation and new construction is swallowing up public beaches. Fortunately, you needn’t stay long: High-speed ferries deliver visitors to nearby islands and the hotels that line their powdery, more meditative beaches.

A beach villa at Alila Villas Koh Russey, which opened in November.
A beach villa at Alila Villas Koh Russey, which opened in November.

Take the island of Koh Russey and its new Alila Villas Koh Russey resort, a 15-minute speedboat ride from the mainland. Opened last November on a previously uninhabited nature reserve, it’s Singapore-based Alila Villas’ first high-end property in Cambodia. Since guests catch the boat on a jetty just outside Sihanoukville, they can largely avoid the noisy city en route to the resort’s 63 beachfront rooms or villas rooted among the pines, coconut and ironwood trees and thickets of bamboo. (Koh means island and russey means bamboo in the national language, Khmer.) In each room, vast glass sliding doors open to the sounds of waves and views of the Gulf of Thailand’s jade-green water rolling until the horizon (from around $575 a night,

This March, the hotel group Six Senses—known for combining wellness with upscale swellness—will open its 16th resort (its first in Cambodia) just a hot stone’s throw from Koh Russey on a neighboring island. Spread across 30 acres on a forested rocky hill, the 40 villas, all free-standing and chicly modern, come furnished with private plunge pools. The 21,000-square-foot spa and fitness center will offer aerial yoga (practitioners contort within hammocks) and facials with a gold-leaf mask, among all the more standard fare (from $663 a night,

Alila Villas Koh Russey resort's main pool.
Alila Villas Koh Russey resort’s main pool.

Just under an hour’s high-speed ferry ride from Sihanoukville lies the Koh Rong archipelago. Spread over a dozen or so islands, the accommodation options range from cheap-and-cheerful beach bungalows to Song Saa, a glamorous all-villa retreat housed on its own pair of private islands (linked by a footpath). Song Saa, which opened in 2012, may well have kicked off coastal Cambodia’s makeover as a luxury travel scene. Some of the 27 villas, all with sea views, are overwater; others have private beaches. There’s a spa and a waterspouts center; the poolside-restaurant surprises by offering “Cambodian Street Food” (From $1,440 a night, all-inclusive,

On Koh Rong, the archipelago’s largest island, the main village reliably lures backpackers. It’s filled with affordable places to swig a beer, arrange boat tours and eat beachside coconut-milk curry. On the island’s Long Set Beach, you can swim at night with the bioluminescent phytoplankton that light up in the dark as soon as you brush past them. And now, for travelers who enjoy the backpacker vibe but not their lodging choices, there’s the Royal Sands resort. Opened last year on another of the island’s bays, it brings a touch of Santorini to Cambodia, with its 67 whitewashed bungalows facing a long stretch of deserted beach (from $450 a night,

Cambodia: The Chicest New Beach Destination in Asia
Illustration: JASON LEE

Back on the mainland, a couple of hours east down the coast from Sihanoukville, sit a couple of equally attractive destinations. At Kampot, on the Tuek Chhou river, you can stroll around the old town’s grid of French colonial buildings or take a sunset cruise for an unprincely $3 a person. Kep, a 30-minute journey past Kampot, was a trendy haunt during the French colonial days, then was all but destroyed during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. Today Kep is making something of a comeback thanks to its picturesque national park, vital seafood markets (fresh crab is a big deal here) and a clutch of fine resorts. Among the most stylish, Knai Bang Chatt, a seaside compound of renovated modernist villas, was one of the lone high-end hotels in the region when it opened in 2006. Now, it’s just one of many reasons why travelers may choose to linger in Cambodia a little longer.

Big Questions—and a Few Answers—Coming Out of the Detroit Auto Show

NO LONGER SHOCKING GAC's Entranze highlighted an array of concepts that foretell of an all-EV future.
NO LONGER SHOCKING GAC’s Entranze highlighted an array of concepts that foretell of an all-EV future. Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

In a boon for the city of Detroit, the North American International Auto Show will be moved from January to June, and from the charmless chasm of Cobo Center into the streets of a very happening downtown core. The city is already prepping exhibition space for the first summer show, in 2020, the week after IndyCar’s Belle Isle race. Show organizers will line up cars along the riverfront and create an “auto plaza” around Jefferson and Woodward avenues, like a new-car concours d’elegance. Brilliant.

Which only leaves us to survive this last winter auto show, going on through Jan. 27 at Cobo Center. And Monday morning, as the wind off the icy Detroit River bit through my overcoat, I thought, Thank God.

But 18 months! What will the auto world be like when the Detroit show emerges from its cruddy chrysalis? Which one of the smiling executives I meet today will be food for worms? And do I really want to see a bunch of journalists in shorts?

More in Rumble Seat

The past few years, most import luxury manufacturers have foregone the pleasures of Motor City in January, the notable exception being Lexus, which this week unveiled its LC Convertible Concept, a quite fabulous retractable softtop version of the LC Coupe. I have every confidence a June date will help lure the Germans back. They love sunshine.

This week’s newsmakers also reflect the show’s growing regionalism: the new Kia Telluride, with eight seats and 3.8-liter V6 engine, is yet another wide-body, three-row SUV destined to take up two parking spaces at America’s malls. It’s door handle to door handle with the new Hyundai Palisade, Subaru Ascent SUV, and other once-unthinkable syllables.

Some franchises got rebooted: At an event Jan. 9, at Ford Field, company execs unveiled the redesigned Ford Explorer. Built on a new rear-drive architecture, the 2020 Explorer (starting around $33,000) makes four power-plant offerings: a 2.3-liter, 300-hp turbocharged four; a 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 making 365 hp or 400 hp, depending on tune; or a hybrid system, with a 3.3-liter V6 producing a net 318 hp and 336 pound-feet of torque. Nice puffy vests, gentlemen.

Nissan’s IM concept, an EV sports sedan that the brand claims will get 380 miles of range per charge.
Nissan’s IM concept, an EV sports sedan that the brand claims will get 380 miles of range per charge. Photo: Paul Sancya/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Against the backdrop of plant idlings, GM this week announced that its Cadillac division would lead the company’s electrification campaign, using a new battery-electric platform, to compete with luxury electrics, primarily Tesla. Trouble is, brand-wise, the first of these Cadillac EVs will hit the market in three years—in time for 2021 Detroit auto show, maybe. By then Tesla will have been building era-defining cars for more than a decade. It’s also months and even years behind premium-luxury flagship EVs due from Jaguar, Audi and Porsche. Cadillac’s announcement was effectively a commitment to lead from behind.

Meanwhile, helping fund Cadillac’s electrified future will be the new, petrol-powered XT6, a spruce-y version of the GMC Acadia with three-row seating, flexible cargo space (max 78.7 cubic feet) and prices starting at around $50,000, unofficially.

In 18 months, who knows who will be up or down, the Empire or the Rebellion? On Monday VW announced it would build a new EV crossover at its campus in Chattanooga, Tenn., an investment worth $800 million, creating 1,000 jobs.

Cadillac’s announcement that its first EV could arrive in 2021 was effectively a commitment to lead from behind.

Nissan, which also has huge manufacturing plants in Tennessee, whipped the silk off its intriguing EV concept, the IMs. Nissan called the design an “elevated sports car sedan.” The IMs is an experiment in making this posture cool-looking, with fractal body sculpting, daring interplays of light and shadow and dramatic vertical fender louvers—an Uber in Tron-land.

Hanging over both VW and Nissan plans was the fate of federal tax credits for EVs, which the Trump administration has threatened. If ending them is even doable, it would scramble the auto makers’ electrification efforts in the U.S. When? In the next 18 months.

SHOW STOPPERS Car geeks were thrilled at the unveiling of Toyota?s redesigned Supra, set for 2020.
SHOW STOPPERS Car geeks were thrilled at the unveiling of Toyota?s redesigned Supra, set for 2020. Photo: Daniel Mears/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A few cool cars showed up in Detroit, despite the headwinds: The 2020 Toyota Supra is a thickly muscled little sport coupe powered by innards shared with BMW ’s Z4, including its 3.0-liter, twin-scroll turbo I6 producing 335 hp.

How about a little fire, Scarecrow? Ford also unveiled its latest, liveliest Mustang, the Shelby GT500, powered by a supercharged 5.2-liter V8 with a cross-plane crank, good for more than 700 hp. That should keep up with Joneses, and keep the Joneses up too.

At their best, auto shows ask questions about the future. With that in mind, my pick for Best in Show is the GAC Entranze EV concept. GAC— Guangzhou Automobile Group —is a venerable car-making giant only 10 years old, with now-indefinite plans to enter the U.S. market by 2020. GAC execs have made the trip to Detroit in January for the last five years, so props for that.

The Entranze itself is fairly conventional concept-car futurism—pillarless glass doors, open floor plan, lots of impossible sightlines. Eye candy. But behind the model are a set of assumptions about the relationship between China and the U.S. that are suddenly and dramatically nonoperative. There is no doubt GAC will export a globally competitive luxury electric one day, maybe as soon as 18 months from now. But it’s now hard to imagine how Americans will ever get to kick the tires.

See you in June 2020 and, please, forget your shorts.