I’m paying homage to the baddest bitch in fashion you don’t know enough about: Cathy Horyn. The New York Time’s brash and brilliant head of fashion journalism struck awe- and not a small amount of rage- of diva designers for 15 years. Cathy stepped down from her post as NYT fashion critic in January, to focus on taking care of her dying partner and writing that long anticipated novel.
Utterly fearless and brutally insightful, Cathy Horyn’s biting critique and accurate analysis of every major player in the fashion industry earned her a large and loyal readership. Not to mention the grudging respect- and sometimes even surprising friendship- of the powerful designers she judged fearlessly.
Unlike the legions of bloggers and commenters who dare not insult the powers that be (because they have nothing to lose) or occasional gentle rebuke in major publications (who dare not alienate potential advertisers/coveted invitations/rungs on the social-climbing ladder), criticism from Cathy Horyn strikes a nerve.
Or occasionally a spurting jugular.
If you don’t have time to peruse the 1,123 articles Cathy Horyn penned during her time at The New York Times (and really who does), here’s a breakdown of the biggest scandals and fiercest feuds of Cathy Horyn’s marvelous career.
1. Oscar de la Renta
When Cathy Horyn won the CFDA award for fashion journalism back in 2002, Women’s Wear Daily celebrated the event with an article, “Does The New York Times Hate Fashion?” complete with a quote from Oscar de la Renta who argued that: “Cathy Horyn is not one who loves fashion or enhances fashion in any manner. There are personal commentaries and digs, not only about the designers, but about people who attend the shows, which I consider unnecessary and unprofessional in reviewing a collection… I’ll say it. I’m not a coward.”
The battle reached a boil in September of 2012, when Cathy wrote a scathing review of Oscar’s latest collection, dubbing him the “hot dog” of American fashion. Oscar’s rebuttal was swift and public. A few days later, Horyn opened her WWD to see a full-page ad from De la Renta calling her a “stale 3-day old hamburger.”
In a Harper’s Bazaar Essay published just this month, Cathy Horyn made a surprising revelation: “A lot of people find it surprising that I’m friendly with Oscar de la Renta even though he once took out an ad in Women’s Wear Daily calling me a “hamburger.” (I had sportingly used “hot dog” in my review of his Spring 2013 collection.) This was silly business—it is a silly business—but if there’s one thing I know from covering Oscar for three decades, it’s that he’s intensely competitive. A good fight, even a phony good fight, magnifies power. It also creates a ton of publicity, as Oscar reminded me with a grin when I saw him a few weeks later.”
2. Hedi Slimane
In October of 2012, Hedi Slimane debuted his highly hyped, ultra anticipated debut for Saint Laurent. Yet NYT’s infamous fashion critic Cathy Horyn was pointedly not invited. Apparently Saint Laurent’s it-kid new Creative Director was still sulking about a piece Horyn wrote 8 YEARS before, in 2004, about Raf Simons. In the piece, Cathy had the gall to dismiss one of Slimane’s pieces (specifically a cut of slim pants) as imitations of Raf Simons pants. 8 years is quite a long time to hold a grudge, but apparently Hedi was determined to serve revenge cold by withholding a coveted invite to his triumphant new St. Laurent show.
Unperturbed, Horyn reviewed the St. Laurent Collection from home, and shockingly decided that she didn’t much care for Hedi Slimane’s new St. Laurent looks anyhow. Horyn’s deliciously dismissive review derided the collection as “a nice but frozen vision of a bohemian chick at the Chateau Marmont. Or in St. Tropez.” In a fit of petulant pique, Slimane lashed out on (what else) Twitter, tweeting that Horyn was a “a schoolyard bully and also a little bit of a stand-up comedian,” and “publicist in disguise.” Horyn’s flippant response? “It’s silly nonsense to me.”
3. Lady Gaga
In September of 2011, Lady Gaga penned a piece for V Magazine slamming Horyn’s style of criticism and posing the rather pretentious question, “When did the pretense of fashion become more important than its influence on a generation?” Clearly, Gaga takes her meat dresses and see through jump suits very seriously, and considers her increasingly outlandish apparel as art rather than shameless attention seeking.
Not satisfied with writing a magazine article dismissing Horyn’s work, Gaga decided to milk the feud for all it’s worth via a song. Lady Gaga released a single called “Cake Like Lady Gaga,” including lyrics like “Cathy Horyn, your style ain’t dick” and, classier still, a schoolyard taunt aimed at Horyn’s sickly partner, Art Ortenberg, braying “Ortenberg, you can suck my dick.”
4. Tommy Hilfiger
In 2010, Cathy Horyn penned a blistering, snarky, not even pretending to be remotely nice review of Tommy Hilfiger ‘s aesthetic, brand, and most recent collection. She began with an elaborate comparison of Hilfiger’s Spring 2010 to a pruned hedge. “My thoughts kept returning to those obsessively clipped privet hedges on Nantucket and in the Hamptons. They look so artificial — and one must assume they look that way because their owners are made anxiously uncomfortable by the sight of an ungroomed one.”
Psychological takedowns of banal prep do not happen nearly enough. The gems kept dropping from Cathy Horyn’s mouth as she sneered “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.”
5. Alexander Wang
In September of 2010, Horyn did the unthinkable to anyone in fashion not named Cathy Horyn: she dissmissed the young fashion darling du jour. Horyn has some choice words for fashion-world darling Alexander Wang, saying that Alexander Wang 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.” And the analysis went downhill from there. Some choice barbs:
“Even the most talented, surprising postmodernist designer can seem to have his feet planted in concrete compared to the weightlessness of Alexander Wang”
“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”
“But don’t fret for the 26-year-old Mr. Wang: the combined whiplash of globalization and the Internet all but guarantees that these clothes will look new to someone”
And, my favorite opening ever of a runway review:
“Fashion doesn’t have much of a past now that everything is instant, and don’t expect clothes to look coherent or a designer to have a consistent style. Of course, this new condition in fashion may strike you as messy, shallow, dependent on borrowed ideas and visually boring, but don’t worry: like nausea, this feeling will pass.”