The importance of the fashion critic

FAUX REAL - Karen Bolilia (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2015 - 12:00am

I remember reading my first Cathy Horyn review published in The Cut. It was her second since her departure from The New York Times, and now as critic at large for the fashion arm of New York magazine online. It had a biting headline — “Kanye West Hasn’t Graduated Fashion School Yet,” in which she criticized the artist for his collaboration with Adidas during New York Fashion Week, calling his presentation “vacant,” and his references having “no synthesis or transcendence.”

I admire how she took it upon herself to stand up to the seemingly infallible West, by saying that the generally positive response to the show was somewhat like experiencing Stockholm Syndrome. She kept it r-e-a-l. I was nodding so often it was almost robotic. Horyn said what I couldn’t articulate about the rapper/artist, especially as a girl surrounded by Kanye die-hards and closely watching fashion from a laptop, halfway across the world. Here is an established critic, making informed opinions about this larger-in-life personality slash aspiring designer. And I love Kanye West. I do. But I still think, as influential as he is, nothing was new or particularly innovative about his collection (and so thank you, Cathy Horyn, for making me brave enough to say that out loud).

The power of the press is wielded in a different way now, as reviews in print weigh less than they used to. Critics like Cathy Horyn and even in the earlier years, John Fairchild, used to get banned from shows, and designers to this day admit to being hurt or being terrified of them. Their words cut, absolve, break, and on occasion, make a designer. These days, a review acts as a prelude gallery of the collection, where you can decide for yourself if you’re into the clothes or not. We see the shows almost simultaneously, and we get to be our own critics — getting rid of the middlemen that interfere with our better judgment. It’s an empowering idea, of course, but that’s not what fashion needs now. More than ever, we need more people like Cathy Horyn.

Criticism is vital to creative work, because that’s how the product moves forward. Much like the role of the editor, the critic is able to point out unnecessary additions, recognize the references, and place the clothes within context. Designers cannot operate within a vacuum, and critics will call them out on it if necessary. They’re not haters — it’s more of a technical commentary that may help to discipline the craft. They understand the artistry and the hours devoted to creating a show, but they’re also not there to hold anyone’s hand. And we need that tenacity and fearlessness back, someone to disarm the Goliaths of this billion-dollar industry.

In a time where there is too much #fashion going on, we need people like her to see past the smoke and mirrors, to wipe her hand against the glass. Horyn’s prose remains the same as ever — direct, refined, if a little wistful at times. But joining The Cut — much like what Suzy Menkes did by joining Vogue’s international digital team last year — means opening herself up to a new audience, and that’s crazy-good news. Because a woman of her experience and authority is able to weed through the B.S., and can interpret the mood of fashion now, and how it’s changing. And that is a skill acquired through years of reporting, research, and access — and not just via your own dot.com.

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