Why We Need Cathy Horyn

by Emilia Petrarca
August 21, 2014
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And that near-forgotten style of fashion criticism

Cathy_Horyngog

Cathy Horyn’s piercing prose is back and just in time to jolt fashion out of its summer stupor. On Monday, T: The New York Times Style Magazine published one of Horyn’s first long-form pieces since leaving the Times in January after her longtime partner, Art Ortenberg, fell deathly ill. In the article, titled “Sign of the Times,” Horyn expounds on the swift simplification of fashion as of late — a trend she believes to be typified by Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent.

Horyn writes like most people play a game of Battleship; she makes as few moves as possible and always with the intent to blow you out of the water. Sentences like this one read like a punch to the gut: “I’m no fan of Slimane’s, but he’s clever. In two years as creative chief, he has barely broken a sweat as he fetches another pussy bow from the ’60s time capsule.”

Boom.

In the 1,233 words that follow, Horyn argues that fashion today has lost a sense of brazen purpose. Rather than striving to be bold, designers like Slimane are cranking out straightforward, relatable clothes that fit within a digestible brand image. In Horyn’s words: “…what was once noble is now a universal fast-track to fabulousness.” With each new season, fast fashion and the runway become increasingly indistinguishable.

What makes this piece so poignant is not only Horyn’s ability to succinctly capture the current spirit (or lack thereof) of fashion, but also how her qualms with Slimane echo a similar void in fashion criticism that was created when she left. Unlike some aspects of the fashion business today, Horyn is not afraid to be audacious. She has something to say and wants you to hear it loud and clear. There are no “ifs” or “maybes” in her writing, like in the headlines we see today.

Since replacing Horyn at the Times in March, Vanessa Friedman has done an impressive job producing articles on a more regular basis and increasing the publication’s online presence. Like Slimane did with Saint Laurent, Friedman brought the Style Section into the modern age. Her opinions are nothing short of bold — take “Beyoncé, a Legend of Rock, but Not Fashion,” an article that provoked endless Internet commentary. Yet despite Friedman’s best efforts, I still worry that fashion criticism in general is adopting a fast-fashion model where trending content is valued over stylized substance. Friedman chooses to spend her energy and talents keeping up with business, politics and popular culture trends and as a result oftentimes forgoes thinking outside the proverbial shoebox.

In comparison, Friedman’s pieces are lengthy while Horyn’s reviews adhered to a strict 500-word maximum. Friedman asks thought-provoking questions; Horyn provides answers before anyone even knows to ask. Friedman speaks to everyone; Horyn answers to nobody. These women represent two very different approaches to fashion criticism — both equally laudable — but Horyn’s extended absence made me realize just how rare her voice is. And how glad I am that she’s back.

Without a regular column for the Times, Horyn now ironically possesses just that: time, which is a rare and priceless commodity in fashion and on the Internet. Now, more than ever, we need fashion critics of her caliber who can step back from the factory that fashion has become and take inventory of the situation. The same way that we need designers to keep practicing Haute Couture, we also need Cathy Horyn to continue crafting her well-tailored sentences.

Image via Guest of a Guest

REPLIES
  • http://Medium.com/@hager_emma Emma Hager

    I agree. Since Horyn’s hiatus, fashion journalism has certainly taken a dip. Her honesty and sharpness are unmatched, and thus we’ve all had to adjust to a world of fashion sans Horyn. It’s been as hard as I expected it to be.

    She authored the very first words I read about fashion. I remember feeling this odd sense of intrigue upon reading the way she was essentially beheading a designer. She did it with compassion — almost altruistically — for the greater world of fashion. And what’s more? She doesn’t consider herself a “fashion person.” Merely an intellectual, insightful observer who is close enough to the matter to make valid points, yet far enough away to remain skeptical, ultimately pushing creatives to be the best they can be.

  • ee_by_cc

    The polarizing effect that Horyn’s writing had was exactly what is missing in most aspects of life, not just fashion. Someone bold enough to have a singularly focused opinion that rises above all of the politeness and pleasantry. I continue to respect her brazenness, even if I don’t always agree with her point of view.

    http://www.enduringethereal.com

  • Paulina Villalpando

    In a way, it is great that high fashion becomes more accessible to the majority of the population. The democratization of information – internet, social media, etc, has made this possible. Coming from a country with a recently emerging fashion industry (Mexico), it is great to have access to what was impossible for normal people to access a decade ago: we can now get a Saint Laurent-inspired look in H&M. On the other hand, I agree with the fact that high fashion is high fashion because of its creative superiority from the rest – it is meant to dictate and propose, rather than just become easily imitable…http://www.thepaarblog.com/

  • Merie

    I very much agree that Horyn’s biting journalism stands out among a sea of bland fashion commentary. Her knowledge of the industry is quite unmatched, making her opinions that much more valid and less spur of the moment than many others.

    Your point of “adopting a fast-fashion model…over stylized substance” is something that I think can be seen more widely in society today, regardless of industry. According to Scientific Brain, our attention span has decreased 4 seconds in the past 13 years, making us all the more suited to reading BuzzFeed style news as opposed to in-depth commentary, whatever the topic. This is something I have noticed on Man Repeller as well unfortunately, as much as I love the site. While I think that the content you put up is generally entertaining and fresh, there are also instances where I feel slightly let down as a reader by articles that seem contrived and clearly commercial. Regular daily updates should not override quality I think.

    Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece and look forward to more of the like!

  • Fishmonkey

    It is too bad, really, that Horyn’s criticism style is so rare. And it is likely to become even more rare, I think, as some of the criticism is taken up by fashion bloggers. As much as I enjoy fashion blogs, I know that cutting criticism will be rare because 1) many receive gifts from brands — and who would bite the hand that feeds them? 2) a lot (not all, but quite a few) bloggers simply lack in-depth knowledge of fashion’s history and references most professional critics possess (as it is a job requirement for them). Not an attack on bloggers, here, but rather pointing out that they are different than professional critics, who aren’t (or shouldn’t be) beholden to neither brands nor audiences. Like Horyn.

  • Cristina Feather

    Beautifully put!

  • http://fromtheworldwithlove.com/ Fromtheworldwithlove Ftwwl

    In a World where where everybody love the same big fashion houses a year after year…some good critics is necessary…
    xoxo
    Yael Guetta

    http://www.ftwwl.com

  • http://marciayl.tumblr.com/ Marcia Lee

    Something of this article reminds me of this line from the movie The Hours…

    Virginia Woolf: Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more. It’s contrast.

    Perhaps not so grim,

    But it’s that same contrast Horyn provides in taking an “objective” look at fashion that cuts through the creative fervor we all enjoy indulging in. That jolt of reality is refreshing

  • http://www.dominiquecandido.com Dominique
  • Real Talk

    Cathy Horyn he’s the Kanye West of fashion journalism, both with hit you with the truth, we need more people like this

  • Hallie

    AGREE!!!!

  • MSCFBeeches

    I think a lot of writers today are either AFRAID of being honest or aren’t adept enough to recognize their honest opinion, because so-and-so always does beautiful work and is praised. The kind of balls Cathy has typically comes from experience or a general attitude to NOT give a fcuk enough to go against the grain and suffer the consequences. In an industry with a fast turnover, a lot of ass-kissing, and low tolerance for people who “don’t get it,” it’s hard for those personalities and opinions to survive. I’ve thought to QUIT it plenty of times and go to an industry and a career where I can really umm… sling d*ck (so to speak), and make change without worrying about someone denying me access or cutting my career off at the knees.

    As far as her article on the current state of fashion goes, I agree. If the commercialism and minimalism of fashion continues we’ll all be wearing beige in the future. And personally it doesn’t suit my complexion…

    Mysocalledfashion.com

  • starryhye

    Spot on. I also think that criticism like Horyn’s is less frequent bc more and more journalist and celebs are cozy with designers. Everyone is in bed with everyone else, which makes having an unbiased opinion a rare thing.

  • http://juliemacindoe.com Julie Macindoe

    Nice brain and nice way with words. Really enjoyed reading this.

  • http://www.thefieldingreport.com Emily Trout

    Wonderful perspective. I rarely comment, but this article had such great substance and brought up valid points. It really speaks to the change of journalism due to the age of the internet; it’s affected so many things for the good (and bad?) that I appreciate the discussion. At least it will teach some of the “old” ways.

  • Alexandra Puffer

    Mmmm would love to have a collection of her articles bound. Thanks for the inspiration & awareness.

    Warm regards,
    Alexandra
    http://www.littlewildheart.com

  • http://cityhabit.wordpress.com Modupe Oloruntoba

    love this. Had no idea she was back. :)

  • guest

    Sometimes, look at a garment and my heart literally skips a beat. Sadly, such a garment is usually a vintage piece and I cannot remember the last time I felt this way about a new piece. Or, if I do, I then find out that the design has been poached from a vintage piece. Your points are all valid, but I think this dynamic also points to a generation that has been raised to be afraid of taking risks. Virtually every TV show, movie, blog, magazine, festival shot, “street style” shot … they all send out pretty much the same message: safe, uniform, risk-free. And if you DO stand out (Leandra knows this well) you attract all sorts of spiteful and hateful comments…so you start craving “safe”.

  • AHighcrest

    Rip ‘em to shreds Cathy; death to the sycophants… figuratively of course.

  • Clara Kirkpatrick

    Totally Agree ;-)

    • Emilia Petrarca

      Clara! You’re so cute.

  • katrina

    We just need it without reason.
    http://www.kleidmo.com/

  • Micheline Drebert

    In a Globe where where everybody really like the same big style brands a season after year…some excellent experts is necessary…Indiana Jones leather jacket replica

  • flashinator

    However, when you write “Like Slimane did with Saint Laurent, Friedman brought the Style Section into the modern age. “, you fall into ghe kind of uncritical, lazy analogies that make up most fashion critique. Whether you like his work or not, Slimane did not bring SL into the modern anything: surely Stefano Pilati could be said to embody that terminology more accurately. Slimane embodies retro, subcultural style or maybe nostalgia, but never “the modern age”.

  • pamb

    Yes, I love Cathy Horyn. I love to read articles by people who know what they’re talking about, who speak the truth, even if they are banned from a fashion show for doing so. Unlike many in the magazine/blog world who are beholden to advertisers, the NYT and Washington Post (home of Robin Givhan) seem to subscribe to a hands off policy, which serves the consumer better.

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