The rollercoaster career of Cathy Horyn

Following the scathing NYT fashion critic's resignation, we look back at her ups and downs

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Disney Cathy
Cathy Horyn immortalised by Disney

The departure of Cathy Horyn, arguably fashion's most influential critic, from The New York Times has been announced with the most sombre of statements. "It is with deep sadness… that we announce that Cathy Horyn, the paper’s chief fashion critic since 1999, is leaving The Times," a spokesperson said, citing her intention "to spend more (time) with her partner, Art Ortenberg, who has had health problems, and whom she feels would benefit greatly from her increased presence at home." She leaves the reins to newcomers John Koblin and Matthew Schneier.

Horyn's illustrious 15-year stint at the paper saw her both discover stars and slam many with her words. Here are just some of the ups and downs that not only made her who she is, but changed the fashion industry for the better.

VIRTUOUS VOICE

For 15 years, Horyn's On the Runway blog could string up anything from praise for her designer favourites – Azzedine Alaïa and long-time friend Raf Simons – to her no-frills reviews of those shows that she was less than impressed by. Horyn spoke her mind, outlining her thoughts exactly as they formed. Where others wax lyrical with the watered-down and pruned version of events, you get the feeling her writing stems straight from her thought process. Although the backlash from her more unfavourable reviews sparked feuds between designers, pop stars and their fans alike, Horyn’s contemporaries have also commended her for her staunch professionalism in even the stormiest of times (see: the Hedi Slimane feud).

Cathy Horyn 1999

A HOT DOG IN HOT WATER

When Horyn's name crops up – whether in print or whispered by designers' quivering lips in tandem with the word 'review' – eyes widen. Her pithy commentary, biting at its tamest, is exacting in both delivery and truth. Of course, not everyone is so enthuasiastic to read her words. And she's no stranger to spats. Horyn has been famously banned from attending Saint Laurent Paris shows due to a long-time grudge between Hedi Slimane and herself. Slimane penned an open letter to Horyn accusing her of being a "schoolyard bully" after her scathing review of his collection, likening it to Topshop. She's also had run-ins with Oscar de la Renta and Lady Gaga (the former of which called her a "stale 3-day old hamburger").

Hedi Slimane Cathy Horyn open letter
Hedi Slimane's open letter to Cathy Horyn

ROBIN HOOD OF FASHION

Like the Robin Hood of the fashion world, amid the widely publicised high-profile spats Horyn would write in support of the little people – the people who buy the magazines and covet the lifestyle – looking at fashion from a realist perspective in a way no other dared to do. At the height of the global financial crisis in 2008, American Vogue sent a writer to discover the “charms” of Wal-Mart. While we may have been afraid to poke our head above the parapet to call-out Wintour’s crassness and deep disrespect for her wider audience, Horyn slammed the event as “embarrassing” in a NY Times column that listed each of Vogue’s failings (and successes) as the magazine's ad sales plummeted. 

SECOND CHANCE SUPPORT

Following John Galliano's public addiction issues, Horyn sensibly addressed "the addict" that John Galliano admitted to hiding away for most of his life, stripping his "superstar" tag and giving him the chance to make mistakes like anybody else in the world. Rather than recount the details of what we already knew, she suggested he be given a second chance, albeit one that he would have to brave on his own. Slightly nostalgic for Galliano’s better days, she recalled that his SS06 show was “the only time I have stood to applaud a designer, without waiting for the rest of the audience to join in, which it did not.” At a time when most of the world had turned their backs on Galliano, Horyn’s biting yet honest advice was perhaps more positive than anything those closest to him had already done in their attempts to quickly hoist him back onto his catwalk throne.

POLO PROBLEMS

The internet is awash with Horyn’s acidic barbs, and one that pops up again and again, mysteriously unattributed, is the frankly hilarious description of Ralph Lauren as “a little man astride a horse swinging a polo mallet.” It takes a delve into the archives of The New York Times to find the original article, a 2003 review of two Ralph Lauren biographies. The phrase is buried, and comes with little of the venom it is now associated, describing Lauren as “the guy from the Bronx... who built a $2 billion a year empire out of fat ties and a little man astride a horse swinging a polo mallet.” Horyn’s innocently childish description of the Lauren logo has been twisted in our eagerness, and stuck – the joke is suddenly on us.

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