Farewell to a Fashion Critic: Cathy Horyn's Greatest Hits


New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn resigned Friday, mere days before New York Fashion Week begins. WHAT?! The fashion world has been rocked to its very core.

Horyn has left the paper to take care of her partner Art Ortenberg, who, according to a memo released by the Times, is in ill health. She’ll still be working on a book “that chronicles how The New York Times has covered fashion from the 1850s to the present.” But as one of the preeminent fashion critics in the industry, this news will not be taken lightly. Horyn has written, according to the Times, 1,123 pieces for the paper since she started in 1998. Though many of them have been favorable, it’s her pans that have been the most exciting. No positive review she’s written or piece she’s carefully reported has been quite as delightful as the tiffs she’s found herself in. For say whatever you will about Horyn: she’s not afraid to speak her mind. (In her words: “I’m the least sentimental person you’ll ever meet.”)

Horyn’s departure from the paper will prompt some to celebrate, others to cry, and all to fondly remember the controversies she’s been involved in. Here are some highlights.

The Loved

Horyn loves Marc Jacobs. LOVES, even when she hates. So much so that when she once reviewed one of his shows and deemed it “slack,” her review prompted Marc to write in the comments that he had been feeling “uninspired.” She also loves Raf Simons, snagging an interview with him after it was first announced he was going to Dior. And when writing Isabella Blow’s memorial, she described Anna Wintour’s eulogy as “fantastic — warm, funny, full of rich detail,” one of her rare moments that veered close to the sentimentality she hates.

The Hated

In 2010, Horyn wrote a screed against Snooki that described the Jersey Shore star as “busty and short-waisted with small legs; sort of like a turnip turned on its tip.” That same year, she said of Tommy Hilfiger:

For Mr. Hilfiger, the runway may be paved in imitation fieldstone, as it was on Sunday night in the Lincoln Center show space, but it’s still a big Sisyphean ball of khaki. Materially, the output will never exceed the creative input, and so he, Mr. Hilfiger of New York, Nantucket and Mustique, is doomed to repeat himself. Or, more accurately, the Hilfiger design team is.

In general, 2010 was a down year for Horyn. The fall shows, she said, “were a lot like an alcohol-free version of The Lost Weekend, the 1945 Ray Milland film”:

What would that be like? An eternity of bad clothes crammed into four days with editors raging like shut-ins about the lack of fun (“Help, I need a drink!”) and the blogger Bryanboy announcing on Twitter that he had scored a free fur jacket from Dolce & Gabbana.

Horyn has consistently expressed her distaste for Alexander Wang, writing that he “is not a great designer, though he probably would be happy to accept any laurels that people want to toss him, but he is clearly a shrewd guy.” She’s criticized his work for being popular purely because of globalization: “Mr. Wang doesn’t really have courage in the traditional sense of trying something new and difficult, but he does have China. Nearly all of his clothing is now produced there.”

And Horyn has long disliked Vera Wang, even managing to insult the designer in pan of Vogue‘s 2007 September issue that included one of Wang’s ads: “Vera Wang’s snowy Russian campaign just raises a ‘Wha?'”

The Fights

Cathy Horyn vs. Robin Givhan

Horyn didn’t like fellow fashion critic Robin Givhan’s consistent analyzing of the meaning behind what famous people wear, despite her own history of doing the same thing. In response, Givhan said she thinks Horyn is “a talented journalist.”

Cathy Horyn vs. Lady Gaga

“Why have we decided that one person’s opinion matters more than anyone else’s?” Lady Gaga wrote in an article for V magazine in 2011 after Horyn said a Versace dress Gaga wore looked like she was “embalmed” in it. Later, Gaga would perform at Thierry Mugler’s show and sing/rap about Horyn, saying “your style ain’t dick.”

Cathy Horyn vs. Christina Hendricks

Christina Hendricks’ 2010 Golden Globes dress was described by Horyn thusly: “(As one stylist said, ‘You don’t put a big girl in a big dress. That’s rule number one.’)” After readers revolted (the photo of Hendricks included next to the column was also accidentally altered to made her look larger) and Hendricks said the criticism hurt her feelings, Horyn apologized. “She’s a lovely girl,” she told The Daily Beast. “I should have stepped back and explained what that person meant. It wasn’t about Christina’s figure. It’s about what looks best.”

Cathy Horyn vs. the Designers

In 2007, Horyn was banned from Carolina Herrera’s show for calling a previous show “remarkably irrelevant. That same year she was told she wasn’t welcome at Dolce & Gabbanna’s shows because of her “slanderous criticism.”

In 2008, Horyn was banned from Giorgio Armani’s show because of her description of his family and friends, telling her she had been “belittling,” something Armani had done to Horyn before. “I had described their appearance and manner in the moments before the show,” Horyn wrote. “It was pretty innocuous stuff.”

Horyn was not invited to a 2012 Saint Laurent show because of a positive review she’d written about Raf Simons in 2004, in which she basically said that menswear designers all owed each other a lot. In a tweet that has since been deleted, Hedi Slimane called Horyn a “schoolyard bully and also a little bit of a standup comedian,” said “her sense of style is seriously challenged” and added she had a “thick” and “predictable” agenda, essentially arguing that she was merely “a publicist in disguise” and not a true journalist. Slimane added even more drama to the situation by making the tweet look a bit like a newspaper column, with the Times‘ gothic script used as a header.

In a review of Oscar de la Renta’s show in 2012, Horyn called him “far more a hot dog than an éminence grise of American fashion.” Though Horyn later clarified that description was a compliment, de la Renta did not like being compared to processed meat and took out an ad in Women’s Wear Daily condemning her.

According to a piece Horyn wrote about being prevented from attending shows following the Armani ban, she only started getting excluded from shows once she started working for the Times. Other designers that have banned her include Helmut Lang and Nicole Miller.

The Inexplicable

Horyn has a tendency to be quite random sometimes. For instance, a column from the fall of 2007 was largely about a mouse in her house. And her recent criticism of the Grammys read as follows: At 8:14 pm she tweeted, “Night of the hat, I guess.” And then at 8:31 pm: “Like I said, night of the hat.”

The Great

Horyn work has spanned from reporting on the changing shape of mannequins to dry voiceovers on fashion show slideshows. But her ability to cut through the bullshit even when she’s being criticized for writing kooky but entertaining reviews has been some of the best. For instance, in a 2007 profile about Anna Wintour’s power in the fashion world, Horyn wrote:

But you don’t have to doubt Ms. Wintour’s integrity to see the danger of too much influence. You just have to look at the magazine and its three spinoffs (Teen Vogue, Men’s Vogue, Vogue Living), at the tendency to feature the same socialites and pretty dresses, in the same perfect settings, and then imagine what the implications would be if she could also determine where designers worked.

New York Fashion Week – excuse me, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week – starts February 6.

Image via Chelsea Lauren/Getty for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014

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