Last week, the Women’s Council of the Gibbes Museum hosted an event featuring New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn. After a silent auction and during a three-course meal (complete with bottomless champagne), Horyn regaled listeners with tales of life in the fashion fast lane.
Horyn is typically known for her unapologetic, scathing reviews, which have earned her the title of “most feared woman in the fashion industry” and landed her on the banned list from Giorgio Armani runway shows. After all we’ve heard about this intimidating lady, her speech at the Gibbes was slightly anticlimactic — she didn’t rip anyone a new one. Instead, during this pleasant spring morning in the courtyard, Horyn offered insight into the fashion world by discussing trends and changes in the industry.
Horyn acknowledged the major changes in fashion — things are different than they were in the days when Coco Chanel designs were rarely owned by anyone other than royalty and celebrities. Horyn says the difference is that Chanel was an artist. Now, fashion is a marketing strategy. “Fashion has become a business move,” she said. “Many great fashion houses now have corporate owners while bright young artists have closed business … Almost all fashion is now the result of marketing teams and not one mad genius.”
She added, “It’s difficult to create high fashion due to the expectations at the top of the pyramid and undermining sense of boredom at the bottom. There is criticism from all sides, and nothing is a rarity due to standardization.” She largely attributed this change to social media and the disappearance of groupies — there’s no need to attend shows anymore because all content is available online. “There is no fashion underground, because the 24-hour news media began exposing every aspect of fashion.”
What’s worse? Horyn says the fashion industry has changed so drastically that artwork presented on the runway is rarely ever sold because marketing reveals that it no longer sells. “We like what we like,” she said. “The more hideously ordinary, the better.” The changing landscape has become so mainstream that Horyn predicts designers will dedicate more than a quarter of their budget to social media advertising for this design cycle.
But don’t lose hope yet. Though the industry has changed, individual artists still exist, and Horyn predicts a comeback, because consumers still revere the art of fashion. She gave props to designers like Michael Kors who haven’t exactly sold out, but rather design with a sense of ingenuity and love for highbrow fashion and trends. Kors has been wildly successful, and Horyn explained that he will continue to be so, because people still love the art in fashion — even in a time when one-man shows are dying out as fake designers like Jessica Simpson steal the stage with cheap commodities.
“People still crave a singular voice, a true mad genius, a singular experience,” Horyn said. “We may be witnessing the demise of this in fashion now, but the individual vision does still exist in the studios of designers.”