Cathy Horyn Asks, Can Fashion People Be Friends?

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09_SaraKerens-9988_SaraKerensPhotographed by Sara Kerens.
Fashion has a reputation for being a sort of mean-girls’ club. And, perhaps there is no one meaner — often delightfully so — than erstwhile New York Times critic Cathy Horyn. A straight-shooter, tell-it-like-it-is-kinda-gal, Horyn’s feuds (or pseudo feuds) are legendary: Oscar de la Renta, Hedi Slimane, Lady Gaga, and Dolce & Gabbana, who banned Horyn from their runway presentations because of her “slanderous criticism.” (Other designers who have, at various times, banned Horyn from their shows include: Carolina Herrera, whom she called “remarkably irrelevant;” Helmut Lang; Nicole Miller; and Giorgio Armani.) During her tenure at the Timeswhich she left in January — Horyn burned bridges (sometimes unintentionally), attacked fashion’s sacred cows (Alexander Wang, Vogue), and established a reputation as a steely, ruthless reporter and commentator.

So, the essay that Horyn penned for Harper’s Bazaar yesterday about, of all things, friendship, was kind of a surprise.

In “Are There Real Friends in Fashion?” Horyn writes about her relationship with the late designer L’Wren Scott, about cultivating affinity and trust with sources, and about how fraught and murky fashion friendships can be. (Think not only Horyn’s own banter with de la Renta, but also the famously frenzied relationships between Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, who were basically frenemies; or Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, lovers turned business partners turned something much more complicated and deep; or Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Tally.)

And, while the nature of friendship in general has changed (you can maintain the illusion of friendship with someone just by keeping tabs on their Instagram), these personal connections are still, she maintains, what makes fashion — and fashion writing — so dynamic. She writes:

“The most meaningful stuff in fashion occurs in private places, and some degree of trust is vital to getting inside. I think of the warmth and generosity of evenings in Azzedine Alaïa's kitchen in Paris, which often ended after midnight with the first glimpse of a new design. How much I learned about Azzedine — and from him, too. And, I remember a drive I made in Belgium in 2005 with a nearly unknown Raf Simons, the door panels of his Volvo stuffed with empty cigarette boxes.”

Rest assured it's not just a name-droppy collection of experiences from the charmed life of an insider. The essay takes on the parts of fashion that make friendship seem impossible (competition, for one), and those elements that seemed to support friendliness that are now obsolete (lunches between the shows). It's a deep dive by someone who's clearly more feeling than her hard-edged reputation would suggest.