Yesterday's announcement of Cathy Horyn's departure, a figurehead of fashion journalism for the New York Times, recalls the news of departing head designers from Europe's leading fashion houses. In most cases, the designers play a game of musical chairs, a small pool of Creative Directors who move from one house to the next leaving little surprise when the announcements are officially made.
Names in journalism like Cathy Horyn, Suzy Menkes of INYT (previously IHT), Bridget Foley of WWD, and Vanessa Friedman of the FT, and Eric Wilson now at InStyle to name a few, represent that same enclave but within an industry that has not seen an empty throne in many years. I was too young and unaware to follow the transition into Horyn's reign after the death of Amy Spindler in 2004. Known for her insightful and valued criticism, Spindler laid the path for Horyn's famously sharp words. Now that designers are shutting out any negative criticism, will the paper, much like design houses select Creative Directors with dollar signs in mind, select an even keeled voice to regain and maintain access? Or will they seek to keep an opinionated and potentially controversial critic at the helm? This article in the Star on 'the beleaguered art of fashion criticism is worth a read.
Recent hires John Kolbin from Deadspin, and Matthew Schneier from Style.com are speculatively suggested as successors, but, according the Capital, interviews are being lined up which suggests that these hires in the wake of Eric Wilson's departure were not premonitory of Horyn's decision. For now Suzy Mekes will be the predominant eyes and ears for both INTY and NYT.
In any case this announcement did cause me to realize that I am not familiar enough with today's fashion writers aside from the 'Front Row' set. The current generation of Notables, will soon give way those rising in age and experience. In fact, it's already happening. (Think Hilary Alexander's retirement in 2011 from the Telegraph). It is an evolution worth paying closer attention to, and one that I, for one, am late for.
I would like to draw a distinction between fashion writers and fashion critics.
While I am familiar with many curent fashion writers, I don't know who the next generation of critics are. In order to critique fashion in a valuable and constructive way, one must understand not only present context and direction of the future, but the history of fashion and of each design house and each designer. Relevance and poignancy are musts for a successful collection, within which the critic can address aesthetic to varying degrees- but it's more than a dance of hemline rhetoric. It's about understanding whether or not the designer was in tune with the climate of the times, which designers are leading us into the future, and which once had, but no longer, their finger on the proverbial pulse.
These are the critics who bring designers up the ranks and put others sleep. The critics who ask the most of designers in their creative output, and the most of the consumer to apply their own critical eye. Without such critics, fashion looses it's grandeur and its power for social impact because there is no longer a distinction between the good and the bad. It's al lukewarm. Writers are doing more harm than good being agreeable in spite of themselves.
Good critics are necessary in every industry. They need to be free to express their opinions without fear of repercussion from their employers, despite the potential fallout from the subject of critique. I hope the fact of this dialogue will play a part in the NYT decision. And I hope they will encourage this approach in their new hire, and set an example for future critics taking up the pen.