Why We Need Cathy Horyn
And that near-forgotten style of fashion criticism
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.”
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