The Gift That Keeps On Givhan
A reflection on criticism and those who best relay it
Oh, sure. We’re pretty fond of each other, but the truth is you all are our favorite contributors to The Man Repeller. Really! We’ve formalized that fact with “Let’s Talk About It.” This weekly column is a forum for conversation, communication, and complete distraction from the jobs you’re supposed to be doing right now. So get involved. We promise we won’t tell your bosses.
Congratulations, darlings. We survived. (It must have been all the green juice!) After four cities in four weeks, I think we deserve a medal.
Ha. Just kidding.
Unlike some of my globetrotting peers, I did not physically attend a single show during fashion month. Instead, I played spectator to the entire gorgeous universe it spawns each season from the comfort of my own dorm room. I must say: it was not too shabby.
I tagged along with Billy Farrell Agency via Instagram and refreshed Style.com every six seconds. I watched some of the collections march down their respective runways in real time and saved others for popcorn-fueled, late-night viewings. In high definition, I saw Alexander Wang single-handedly resuscitate the logo and Raf Simons redefine Dior. I made this very website you’re reading now my homepage. But when the cacophony of images and vines and videos threatened to overwhelm, I knew just how to quiet the aesthetic noise, or rather: I knew just who would. I mean, really, what else is a critic for?
Eons ago, before New York Fashion Week began and pink mohair coats were considerably less ubiquitous than they are now, New York Magazine announced that the inimitable Robin Givhan would lend her Pulitzer-prize-winning voice to The Cut’s formidable show coverage. Along with, yes, Cathy Horyn and Suzy Menkes, Givhan is that rare critical breed. She is honest, and she isn’t always “nice.” With remarkably little fanfare, in fact, she tells you exactly what the hell she thinks. Truthfully, I like her incisive, even-keeled accounts best of the bunch.
On Tuesday, Givhan proved her commitment to that worthy objective by ripping Hedi Slimane’s latest collection for Saint Laurent to — forgive the pun — shreds. The entire takedown is gripping, but she succinctly summarizes her disdain in writing that “this time, the collection was a sucker punch to sophistication; a jab at the very meaning of luxury, a humorless impersonation of cool. And worst of all,” she continues. “It was ugly.”
Not only does Givhan’s piercing commentary dispel the widespread stereotype of a too-cozy critical community, but it also complicates Lee Siegel’s eloquently enunciated assertion in The New Yorker last week that the gloriously bloody practice of real criticism is dead. Where critics were once called upon to report when emperors wore no clothes, it seems many have now become royal court subjects who instead politely avert their eyes.
In an age of Internet effusions, Givhan’s controlled analysis is no small thing. Where colleagues gush, she investigates, and where others are bone dry, she conveys real, imaginative warmth. In short: I think she’s pretty good at her job. Although, of course, we can scrutinize whether that’s true—if you want to! For now, though, what I’m most interested in is what Givhan’s wince-worthy account means in the context of our wider and now vastly democratized critical landscape.
These days, thanks to Twitter and Facebook and even this column, we’re all critics. Some of us scored paper-and-ink invites to September’s spectacles. Others followed along remotely. But no matter our technical proximity, one could argue that each of us has as much access to a given collection as even the most rarefied reviewer. And if we are so inclined, each of us has a platform—or ten—on which to share our thoughts. We comment. We engage. A few of us quite literally put our money where our mouths are and shop Moda Operandi.
With all that in mind, what purpose do critics of Givhan’s caliber serve? Do such isolated opinions still command your attention the way they do mine? Or do you, like The New Yorker’s Siegel, feel that criticism needs to evolve to suit our Yelp!-hewn times? If so, what form should it assume? According to Siegel:
The future [of criticism] lies in a synthetic approach. Instead of books, art, theatre, and music being consigned to specialized niches, we might have a criticism that better reflects the eclecticism of our time, a criticism that takes in various arts all at once. You might have, say, a review of a novel by Rachel Kushner that is also a reflection on “Girls,” the art of Marina Abramović, the acting style of Jessica Chastain, and the commercial, theatrical, existential provocations of Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. Or not. In any case, it’s worth a try.
Considering that Givhan name-drops Cyrus in her review, it would seem that the sartorial scribe at least tangentially agrees. The question is, do you?
I’m giving you permission. Let’s talk about it.