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What Fashion Week is Like for Cathy Horyn

Fashion's most respected critic is back for her second season at 'New York' magazine's The Cut.
Cathy Horyn at New York Fashion Week in 2013. Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images

Cathy Horyn at New York Fashion Week in 2013. Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images

On Jan. 31, 2014, Cathy Horyn shocked the fashion community when she announced that she was leaving her post as chief fashion critic of the New York Times after 15 years to take care of her ailing partner, Liz Claiborne co-founder Art Ortenberg. 

But Horyn was not out of the hot seat for long. Just two seasons (and one book) later, Horyn became critic-at-large of New York magazine's The Cut. Fashion's "most feared critic" wasted no time bringing her acerbic wit to bear on Kanye West's debut Adidas collection (and taking fellow writers to task for failing to do so themselves) and the "banally trashy" daywear of Rodarte. (There was plenty of stuff she liked, too: Proenza Schouler, Ryan Roche, Public School.) It was good to have Horyn back. Her fearless opinions — and the clarity that come with them — were sorely missed.

Horyn's style of reviewing has not changed dramatically since joining The Cut, though she says the lack of deadlines and "low pressure" environment has allowed her to loosen her approach (more on that later).

To coincide with the return of New York Fashion Week, we asked Horyn how she decides what shows to see and what to write about, what she aims to accomplish in a review and why it's so much harder to get a "sense of things" these days.

How do you decide what shows to go to? What are you looking for when you're there?

It's similar to what I did at the Times, always the discussion between Eric Wilson and myself and Anita LeClerc over what we wanted to do every season, always up against that thing about, oh there's so many shows, we have to pare it back. I don't think we ever solved it, because there would be more shows and you're inevitably curious about what people are doing. Some time has passed since being at the Times and coming to New York magazine, and fashion moves so quickly now. I think I've become a little more rigorous. If I don't get any news out of it, I'm not going. The driver is the people… [I'm interested in the ones that] grow and evolve with what they do. I always think of Oscar [de la Renta] being someone like that. You know, his company was his company, but he was good about always bringing new ideas, what was young and sort of in the air.

Do you make a point to see young designers — designers in their first season or two?

I do. I went last season to some who were new or newish. Even if I wasn't that wild about what I saw, I will try to go back for at least a second view this season, or I will check them out online. There's [Fernando] Garcia and [Laura] Kim coming out of Oscar [de la Renta]; they started a company Monse, I think they're on Saturday. I like Gabriela Hearst a lot; it's not cutting-edge but she's got experience.

What do you aim to achieve with a review?

Number one, I want to entertain myself. I want to do things or say things I feel are a different way of expressing something about fashion. It's really hard to get a read on a lot of things now, but sometimes I aim to do that. It's great to be free to say what you want to say, free in opinion or free in language — both of those things interest me the most.

Why is it harder to get a read on things now?

For the reasons that people have really been talking about for the past three to five years: more labels, more noise, less direct purpose to the shows. Fashion [now] is much more media; it's like a branch of the media business, or they have borrowed aspects of that. It's so much about delivering stuff, communicating stuff — not necessarily about creating stuff. You have to take some of that for what it is, even appreciate it for what it is. Some writers are used to looking at clothes and trying to get a sort of flavor for what they add up to at the moment. It's hard to go to Marc Jacobs and not think about that, because that's the way Marc thinks. That's true of Raf [Simons] or [Nicolas] Ghesquière for sure, somewhat true of the Proenza [Schouler] guys. Registering what's out there, that part I like too; it's just a little harder now.

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Cathy Horyn at Bibhu Mohapatra's New York Fashion Week show in 2013. Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images

Cathy Horyn at Bibhu Mohapatra's New York Fashion Week show in 2013. Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images

How do you decide what to write about?

At The Cut, or at the Times, if there is something I love, or something I really hate, it sparks a reaction, usually an emotional reaction, and I know exactly what I want to write. I'll take some notes during shows — I don't do a lot of notes during shows [generally] — but I'll write stuff I know I want to say; it comes pretty quickly. A lot of the time, like the Kanye [West] thing last season, I didn't think there was anything particularly new about it, not the format, not the clothes he was doing, or the shoes; I was just struck by more like a single thought that everyone was driven by Stockholm syndrome — a single thought that can drive you on.

Do you work collaboratively?

It's more separate; even at the Times it was very separate. We just had the initial conversation at the beginning of the season, and then Eric Wilson and I did most of the reviewing of women's, but I was never privy to what Eric was doing, and vice versa. I never ask people, what do you think; I don't care. With Rebecca [Ramsey, senior fashion editor of New York magazine], I'm closer to Rebecca because I'm with her in the car a lot in Paris. I see Stella [Bugbee, editorial director of The Cut] a lot, or we talk or text, and they have wonderful editors, Ben Williams. So there's several people I'll see or talk to during the day.

What are your hours like? When do you make time to write?

I usually write early in the morning. At the Times I had to work late at night because of the print deadline, which was 6 p.m. New York time, 11 p.m. if I was in Paris. I was very disciplined about when I sat down to write and when I would have to do that. At The Cut I start really early, like 5 a.m. I like to get everything out from the night before, and have everything sent at 10 a.m., and then I'm off for the rest of the day, doing whatever I want.

Do you have time to take meetings and go to dinners and other non-show events?

I do. I have made more time at The Cut, because with the deadlines at the Times, it wasn't always possible. You have to try to pace yourself. It can be a bad decision if you go out three nights in a row. I try to get five hours of sleep. That's the ideal.

When you were at the Times, you were occasionally banned from shows and reviewed them from the photos. How does that experience compare to being there in person?

It's not something I've had to worry about at The Cut; I haven't been banned from anything. There are circumstances when you just have to review from the video or from the photographs. It's not ideal; I like to be at the show. But after looking at clothes for a certain number of years, you know what you're looking for. I always think of [former WWD editor] John Fairchild, setting up a telescope or maybe it was a long lens to look into Balenciaga's studio when he couldn't get into shows, or interviewing buyers, doing things journalists would have to do to get information. It's old-school practice — you get the information the way you want, the way you need to. I don't think there's as much urgency now, everything is so much more accessible to the public, between the livestreams and the photos. There was obviously an enormous urgency back in those days to do that. Balenciaga was important, Chanel was important. We felt: we're going to report it anyways. As time went on — and I think this is true today — we're less interested in that. There are many other people to write about. I think I'll never be invited to [another] Dolce & Gabbana show, but okay, well forget it, I'm not going to write about them, there are other people to write about.

Besides the collections, where else do you look for stories during Fashion Month?

I think it's a natural thing; you pick up story ideas all the time. Eric and I both did, we came home with a little collection of stuff we wanted to write about, profiles of people, what was happening on the business side. At The Cut, what I do and what Stella is really alert to is how can we cover something differently; like last season we did it as an online interactive thing with some of the Japanese designers, Rei Kawakubo and Junya [Watanbe] and Jun Takahashi [of Undercover] where you could tap on a portion of a garment or outfit and find out what was really going on. I just thought it was a different way of looking — not a critical way, but I'm always fascinated by the back story on the clothes.