When did it become okay for fashion designers to talk back? Let me refine that statement: when did it become okay for fashion designers to start slanging matches with critics that have the temerity to take them to task over their collections?
First it was Hedi Slimane, who last October took to Twitter (where else?) to vent his fury at Cathy Horyn, the fashion critic of The New York Times. Anticipating criticism, he’d already banned her from his debut Saint Laurent show, but Horyn decided to voice her opinion anyway. Next, Oscar de la Renta turned on Horyn in WWD via a full-page ad, in which he retorted to her dubbing him a “hot dog” by calling her a “three-day-old hamburger”. They’ve since made up, although her spat with Slimane is ongoing.
French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier is the latest to retort, using Twitter to vent his frustration at style.com critic Tim Blanks. Just weeks after Blanks was awarded CFDA’s Eugenia Sheppard Media Award in recognition of his work as a fashion journalist (Horyn received it in 2002), Gaultier fumed that “rather than be bored” at his shows Blanks “can use that time to do something else, for example brush up on your fashion history”.
You can understand both sides of the argument: a critic must be free to, well, criticise and Blanks certainly wasn’t the only journalist to take Gaultier to task.
But a designer has poured love and time into creating his or her show; having it torn apart mere hours later must be difficult, especially if you have one iota of doubt about what you’ve done.
So I understand why designers ban. After all, if someone came to your party and was snarky about the canapés, you probably wouldn’t invite them back. Yves Saint Laurent barred press entirely from his couture presentation in July 1971 after his January collection was dubbed “a tour de force of bad taste”. I was once banned by an Italian-based designer with the retort that I could “go and have a pizza” while the show was staged.
What I’m not a fan of, however, is the public nature of these dismissals. It discourages critical debate if anything short of hyperbole is viewed as a slap in the face. W. Somerset Maugham once said: “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.” I wonder if he was at a fashion show when he thought up that aphorism.