How critic Cathy Horyn succeeds during Fashion Week

Illustration: Samantha Hahn

For this special Fashion Week edition of How I Get It Done, we’re asking successful women about managing their careers and lives during this hectic time of year.

Cathy Horyn is one of the most respected fashion critics and journalists working today. After a prolific 16-year career in Times, she joined the Cut in 2015 as a critic at large. Since then, she has profiled a number of designers, including a new one marine greenhouse, Shayne Oliver, Simone Rocha, Rachel Comey, worthyand recently, Jonathan Anderson. In 2018, she went to Germany to better understand the cult of Birkenstock. She took SPOON on Raf Simons moving to Prada and has covered his moves from Dior to Calvin Klein. She took the pulse of the industry during its heyday pandemic. And of course, during Fashion Month, she still shares her unfiltered opinions and sharp, thoughtful insights on the runway shows in New York, Milan and Paris. In such a surface-level industry, Horyn’s no-nonsense approach stands out. Giorgio Armani and Hedi Slimane have infamously banned him from their shows after negative comments. (Only recently she was invited to Slimane’s shows in Celina.)

Although her more negative reviews have made more waves, her writing is full of fun and enjoyment, and many designers are eager to engage. She will take you with her to the back of a motorcycle as she happily spins around Paris. Her various stops at bars and restaurants, from Shred it to The jersey, often make their way into her comments and help clarify why she really likes (or dislikes) something. One of my favorite stories of hers – there are many, including her Times Snooki’s profile – it’s about when she wore a Thom Browne wiener-dog bag during Fashion Week. After all these seasons, Horyn remains curious, energetic and open to new ideas – and to reviewing her thoughts. When she’s not writing about fashion, she’s practicing it green thumb in her small cut flower farm. Before the whirlwind of New York Fashion Week, we called her at home to chat about how she does it all.

On her writing routine during Fashion Week:
If I’m writing, as I am most days, I wake up around 4:30am. I stay at different hotels in Times Square. It’s not the prettiest neighborhood, but over time I’ve learned that it’s just incredibly convenient. I find a coffee truck nearby or go to an all-night deli and get oatmeal or a classic egg sandwich. Then I take it back to my hotel room and start writing about the things I’ve seen – usually about three or four shows. If there is a 10am show that day, aim for 9:30am. And I am efficient enough to do so. It’s just a habit. If I’ve missed something or if I still have more to write, I’ll come back in the middle to finish. But there is rarely an opportunity to do this, so I will try to do it. In Europe, a lot of things are done on your phone while you’re in the car.

Dressing for the show:
I never think about what I’m going to wear. Nooooo. Last season, I traveled for two weeks with a wheelie bag, and I’m determined to do it again. I just don’t want to take too many things. It’s a little stretchy, but I don’t want to think about what I’m wearing. It puts my mind at ease. I just want to have something that looks tailored and sharp and is comfortable. Like many writers and editors, I have three pairs of dark pants and a skirt, then a dress to go out if I feel like going out. And then I have all the other divisions that go with that. It’s a boring uniform. But invariably, I come home and am always amazed that I have two or three looks that I’ve never worn.

I’m more worried about the hair, actually. In Paris, I always have a regular hair appointment at Dessange in St-Germain. Not every day, but I cut and dry my hair a few times when I’m there. Same thing in New York. This is more of a lift than anything else.

During movement:
In New York, I’m taking the subway more. It’s efficient, and New York Fashion Week is heavy—it always has been—so it grounds you more in a way. Makes me think of Bill Cunningham. In Europe, I’ve had some really good drivers over the years. We are still friendly and exchange Christmas notes. I had this driver for many years Times. He’s Vanessa Friedman’s driver now and I think he’s going to retire. But he is a very good cook and when I was on deadline he would bring me an apple tart or something from some great bakery – he knew the best ones in Paris. But in New York, you really feel alone. That’s why I mentioned Bill Cunningham. I felt like Bill and I were friends because we worked at Times but also because our approach was very similar: Go to the show and come back to the office. No fuss.

On the importance of stopping for a meal or drink:
Sometimes it’s a reward; sometimes it’s a way to reconnect with the rest of humanity. I remember going one night after the shows to Le Bernardin – not for dinner, but to sit at the bar – and you see how people are dressed. You see what’s interesting to other people, instead of the madness of Fashion Week. Many foods have lost their way to fad copycats. The principle behind it is just discovery, as opposed to just staying in your narrow groove. I love my colleagues, but sometimes it’s good to be out on your own.

Going backstage after a show:
Once the show is over, the PR will tell you exactly which exit or entrance to take to get backstage, because it can be confusing, especially in a large space. And then there’s usually a slight scramble so that the writers can get ahead of the benefactors. Everyone gathers around, and it’s probably 15 or 20 people. Sometimes the questions behind the scenes are technical: What was that material? How did you build it? Everyone is hearing the same thing, so you’d think all the copy would end up the same. But I think it’s up to the writer to analyze what he wants. I always enjoy talking to Demna because he’s thought about what he means, but it doesn’t feel rehearsed or canned. It’s fun to ask him questions. He is very funny and laughs a lot. I’ll have my interpretation and give it back to him and see how he responds. With Marc Jacobs, sometimes he’s done collections where I quote him extensively because I’m so interested in what he had to say. And then sometimes, like when he did the Carole Armitage show, I didn’t need to talk to him because it was so clear about what it was about and open to interpretation, which is great. And then you have designers like Margiela who would never talk to you. You had to interpret what you saw; it was food for thought. And in some ways, that’s interesting too.

One of the great backstage is with Miuccia Prada. But that was before the pandemic and before Raf Simons. When I was covering it in Times, you would go into the backstage area at the old Prada headquarters, and there would be a little walkway to get to her, and she would sometimes stand in it. And she would be very funny, talking about feminism or whatever she wanted to talk about. But those moments are so warm to me and someone like Miuccia can make it feel so spontaneous. I’m so glad I had all those opportunities to see it.

To keep the copy fresh:
One thing I became aware of long ago when I was in Washington post in the early 90s, it was that every few years, you have to change the way you do things or the way you write about something. You need to improve your style. In the past, she might have been more talkative. It could have been funnier. You can use it more with a little more energy, a little more warmth, a little more risk. And then I settled on another thing, which was about being more descriptive, more clear, especially in the early years of Times. And then I go through periods where I’m more interested in historical context and perspective on where we are in fashion today. The speed of change dictates it. Whatever that rhythm is should be reflected in your copy to some extent. It is a reflection of the times. But you have to find a way to keep yourself interested and busy.

To receive feedback from designers:
It’s fun because they read and care about the comments. I’ve had a few of them yell at me, but they’re just getting everything out of their system and then it’s all friendly again. I’m thinking of Donatella Versace in particular – that was years ago. She did a show in New York and it was packed with celebrities and it was a bit much. I scoffed at the whole thing and then she called me, just annoyed. But she and I have always been pretty friendly and I think I watched the next season and everything was fine. It just exploded, and that was it. But I was always taking notes from Karl Lagerfeld. Not for every collection, but he would make a comment or say “Thanks for this” or “I found that very interesting.” Demna often sends a text – he’s a text guy. Michael Kors always writes a note about two weeks after the show. If it was a good review, he’ll sometimes send flowers, but he’ll always drop you a note, and I really appreciate him taking the time to do that. There’s always some kind of feedback, but it’s usually directly from the designers.

I have also revised my opinion. One that comes to mind was Stefano Pilati’s first Saint Laurent collection. I just didn’t get it and thought it was too girly and puffy sleeved given Saint Laurent’s history. But I thought about it and three months later I wrote a reassessment. I’ve done this a few times and I love making those pieces. It’s fun to rethink.

How to survive the Fashion Month marathon:
The marathon used to be three weeks, but the pace was very different. You will have time to go out for lunch. We would meet friends for dinner or go shopping, and I always thought that was important. I have often written about some great store I have visited – as much reportage as if I were writing a letter from Milan or Paris. It was a very regular thing to go to Villa d’Este on Lake Como as it was not far. And once we went to Parma for this amazing dinner, even though it was a bit of a drive; eight of us all piled into two cars. This is almost non-existent now. Part of the reason is that the traffic is so bad, so you don’t have those free hours. Now I usually go to London after shows in Paris for three days. So if Paris finishes on Wednesday, I’m on the Eurostar on Wednesday afternoon. Either I go to Berlin or somewhere in Italy. I’ve only been in the Loire Valley for a quick 36 hours. André Leon Talley and I once went to the Omaha Beach American Cemetery. I wish we had more time for things like this.

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