Although the crowd of couture lovers at Yale may warrant a label reading size petite, fashion critic Cathy Horyn brought a critical approach Monday to an oft-neglected campus art: fashion.
A predominantly female crowd of about 60 students flocked to an Ezra Stiles College Master’s Tea — the jumpstart event of YCouture’s fashion week — to listen to The New York Times’ Horyn praise designer Marc Jacobs and bash banal design. Horyn spoke about the trajectory of her career, from a novice news journalist to an acclaimed critic and discussed the future of print media and couture culture.
Horyn said her passion for journalism landed her in a basic reporting position at the Virginian-Pilot Newspaper, following her early departure from the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In the 1990s, after becoming a “well-known critic of fashion” at The Washington Post and working briefly at Vanity Fair, Horyn said she was offered her dream job at The New York Times, where she has been for the last seven years.
Horyn enjoys writing about fashion because her articles can be very personal, she said, and her editors never edit with a heavy hand. She said she has the opportunity at The Times to alternate between stories on fashion CEOs and manufacturing logistics or penning purely creative critiques.
“I have tremendous amounts of freedom,” Horyn said. “If Armani pulls his ads, no one blames me and I don’t have to worry about it — so I don’t.”
While some sycophantic fashion reviewers fear breaking designer relationships, Horyn said she never holds back and instead advocates a policy of honesty over flattery.
Although she enjoys being hyper-critical, she said she also praises innovative and transgressive design. This fall, Horyn said, she was supportive of New York designer Marc Jacobs’ tardy but impressive runway show.
“Shocking someone today on the runway is really hard,” she said. “Marc Jacobs — being two hours late — was definitely shocking.”
Horyn said manufacturing and marketing play a decisive role in today’s fashion scene, driving designers to delve into previously untapped consumer bases in Eastern Europe, Russia, India and China.
Horyn said she admires the timelessness of classic couture brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and her favorite — Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel. But she said there is room in the market for budding designers who know how to “make and cut clothes.”
With the increasing globalization of luxury and high fashion, Horyn said, the Internet is the most important journalistic vehicle for sharing her critical knowledge of sartorial etiquette. She said her desire to bring fashion to a wider audience led her to launch her Times blog, “On the Runway,” in January.
“The Internet is where the action is,” she said. “People are out there who love fashion who aren’t coming from the front row.”
Several audience members interviewed, many of whom have read her reviews and blog entries, said they were impressed by her eloquence and knowledge of the industry.
“It was nice to have someone speak seriously and be taken seriously,” Joyce Arnold ’10 said.
Ezra Stiles Master Stuart Schwartz said he invited Horyn to speak because he thought she would appeal to a significant demographic on Yale’s campus.
Despite having two children who work in fashion-related businesses, Schwartz said, he is not as well-versed in fashion terminology as is Horyn.
“Only some of the names rang a bell to me,” he said.
The names of elite fashion houses such as Proenza Schouler, Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamato and Lanvin rolled off her tongue effortlessly during the Tea, but some students said not everyone in the audience was as well versed in couture knowledge as she was.
“I think that a lot of what people said might have gone over people’s heads,” Michael Huang ’09 said.
But Kate Riley ’10 said Horyn’s focus on the manufacturing and marketing sides of the clothing industry made up for her neglect of topics not related to high fashion.
“Yale students tend not to have much sense of how to dress … but she also spoke about business, so it was geared towards its audience,” she said.