A Fond Farewell to Cathy Horyn

January 31, 2014 • Fashion

I’ve pulled the proverbial hair (very much proverbial, as the man is balding) of X for the dusty standards of fashion criticism, but I hope it’s no surprise I’m super bummed about Cathy Horyn’s departure from the Times. I grew up gossiping about her scathing columns, I’ve laughed over her wit. Horyn was and remains one of the very honest, very singular voices in the fashion industry today and I’m sad she’s leaving. Horyn wasn’t afraid of dragging a designer for their dresses and pointing out the elephant in the room. In so many ways, she was untouchable. Not that designers haven’t tried.

In a send-off to the Didion of designer disses, I would like us to fondly remember the amazing drama she has served from her pen. Let us never forget the following:

 

1. Oscar de La Renta Hot Dog / Hamburger Beef Fest

“Mr. de la Renta is far more a hot dog than an éminence grise of American fashion. He opened his lively show on Tuesday with a red latex pencil skirt, a sleek ivory wool pantsuit and dairymaid lace. The models’ hair was streaked with war paint, and midway along, after bead-quivering jackets and neon-bright skirts, he sent out white lace with black pencil-like scribbles. It was wonderfully cantankerous, a good bit of window-dressing for the gooey stuff that followed.”

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That description of the model actually makes me really inclined to want her outfit (latex and lace!!) but also let’s all learn from the shade served by that déclassé metaphor. I truly appreciate backhanded descriptors, because I am not a witty person in real life and learned all my wit from MTV Books about boarding schools and dutifully memorized the scathing one-liners within. But! It get’s better. Let us also, remember, OdLR’s response:

“If you have the right to call me a hot dog why do I not have the right to call you a stale 3-day old hamburger?”

I’m so moved by this public slap fight. This is good marketing. I bet the circulation for WWD and NYT went up just a little bit during this ordeal. God bless good drama.

This is the best, though. I’m not even going to talk about what she said — because it was true — but rather Slimane’s open letter. An open letter to end open letters.

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Wal-Mart Wonder Woman

The cognitive dissonance of the fashion industry makes me really uncomfortable — and mostly, it’s spoken about as if everyone else is the culprit. No, we are all part of this structure, we all play into it. No one is absolved from some kind of guilt. It makes dealing with discussions about privilege really difficult, and so often it doesn’t happen at all. Most certainly not in the pages of the most pre-emininent glossies. Horyn was not afraid to point out this vacuum of absence, and to highlight it, and shine flashlights on it, and to scream at it with her internet microphone. When Vogue sent a writer to Walmart to discover “the charms”, she wrote this:

 

It’s embarrassing to see how Vogue deals with the recession. For the December issue, it sent a writer off to discover the “charms” of Wal-Mart and Target. A similar obtuseness permeates a fashion spread in the January issue, where a model and a child are portrayed on a weekend outing with a Superman figure. Is a ’50s suburban frock emblematic of the mortgage meltdown?

 

That was written in 2009, and I would say the problem has not changed much, but now one of the only people who actively talked about it has stepped off stage. I salute whoever follows in her footsteps. I sincerely hope that as the industry moves and shakes and shifts itself as it is wont to do, that her kind of contrary, cutting voice doesn’t get lost in the shakeups.

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