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The worst runway fashion reviews of all time, by fashion's top (and harshest) critics

The worst runway fashion reviews of all time, by fashion's top (and harshest) critics

Constructive criticism

Text: Ryan Sng


As fashion month approaches, the most fervent observers await not only the runway shows that will define the look of the future, but also critics' assessments thereof. Criticism is an underappreciated art form. It's easy to tar its practitioners as petty folk with axes to grind, but the truth is that top critics — armed with years' worth of subject knowledge and insider access to designers — understand better than most what fashion's best can be; seen in this light, a blistering show review is more likely to be tough love than misdirected cattiness. In tribute to fashion's finest overseers, we've documented the most savage fashion reviews of all time (and their aftermath) for your review.

Emanuel Ungaro spring/summer 2010, by Nicole Phelps for Style.com

Celebrity fashion labels have been around for a while now, but celebrities creatively directing major fashion houses remain an rarity, and for good reason: design is an applied art, and requires a fair amount of training and technical know-how. Some public figures — Victoria Beckham and the Olsen twins, for example — have surmounted that learning curve slowly but surely. That wasn't the case with Lindsay Lohan's out-of-the-blue appointment as co-creative director of Ungaro, of which Nicole Phelps wrote: "In a bid for easy headlines, CEO Mounir Moufarrige recently replaced Esteban Cortazar with... "artistic adviser," the actress turned self-bronzer entrepreneur Lindsay Lohan. Would the move turn out to be a bit of counterintuitive brilliance—the Olsens, after all, have had a bona fide hit with The Row—or would the results be as embarrassing as a streaky orange fake tan?" Me-ow.

To spare you the gory rest of it, the answer was no; Lohan was reportedly let go right after the disastrous catwalk event.

 

Dior Haute Couture fall/winter 2011, by Tim Blanks for Style.com

After John Galliano's infamous exit from Dior, longtime co-conspirator Bill Gaytten made his debut for the house with a harlequinade (see top image) that — judging by the critical drubbing it provoked — was more laughably misguided than amusing.

Style.com's Tim Blanks summarised the audience's cocktail of unfulfilled goodwill and shocked disappointment best, calling the collection "a misjudged effort to impress an alien thumbprint on an aesthetic that, for better or worse, is one of the fashion industry's most clearly defined." Of the show's finale, he lamented: "Then came Karlie Kloss, dressed as a Pierrot, sad clown all alone in the spotlight as the soundtrack failed and glitter showered down. But the stardust missed her by this much." *Sharp inhale*

This story has a happy ending, however. For the couture season that followed, Gaytten completely changed tack and produced the most well-received collection of his short tenure, in which he laid bare the painstaking construction of haute couture instead of drowning it in superfluous detail. While no longer at the helm of Dior, Gaytten now leads the John Galliano label in the absence of its founder.

 

Tom Ford spring/summer 2012, by Lynn Yaeger for New York Magazine

Tom Ford's return to women's fashion in the early 2010s was not without its obstacles. Given his aesthetic consistency through the years, the designer had to battle against a widely-held impression that he was chasing the ghost of his Gucci-era successes. Lynn Yaeger was unsparing in her Q&A critique of Ford's SS12 collection:

"Q: What eminent designer puts what seems like 150 looks on the runway — bottom-grabbing pencil skirts; tiny purple Floradora dresses — and forbids photography (apparently to lend an air of exclusivity, but in this case, maybe to protect his reputation) and emerges on the runway at the end of the show, then stands around with a bunny-in-the-headlights look in his eyes, waiting for a standing ovation that never comes?"

"A: Tom Ford."

All this is water under the bridge, however, with Yaeger receiving a special CFDA Award this year while the organisation is chaired by none other than Ford. Phew.

 

Lanvin fall/winter 2016, by Robin Givhan for The Washington Post

To say that the fashion crowd took Alber Elbaz's 2015 firing from Lanvin poorly would be an understatement. Immediately after the brand's first runway showing without Elbaz — or indeed, anybody else — as creative director, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Robin Givhan tweeted an image of the venue's floor with the caption: "You do not want to see [the Lanvin show], I saw it so you don't have to."

She later wrote: "Let a pale purple, ill-fitting, shiny lace dress from the Lanvin fall 2016 women’s show serve as a warning to any fashion house planning to rid itself of a designer without a replacement standing by. Let it serve as a reminder to consumers that fashion is difficult and that defining a vision and crafting enticing garments to reflect that vision is a high hurdle. Let Lanvin’s little lace frock be a lesson that good clothes begin with the raw ingredients, and if the fabric looks flammable and the color is sad and drab, no amount of ruffles or styling can make it better."

Lanvin fall/winter 2016 Robin Givhan purple lace dress

Sadly, things would only go downhill from there for the brand.

 

Lanvin spring/summer 2018, by Vanessa Friedman for The New York Times

After dismissing couturière Bouchra Jarrar — Elbaz's talented replacement, who closed her own label to focus on Lanvin and was only given two runway seasons to effect a turnaround for the brand — Lanvin once again found itself facing flak for Oliver Lapidus's debut as creative director. The New York Times's Vanessa Friedman was, to put it mildly, less than impressed.

"[Lapidus] brought back the logo... He brought back the wrap tulip skirt and the limp little black dress. He brought back the asymmetric hem… and the triple wrap-belt... He brought back a duty-free aesthetic. What he did not bring back: elegance, quality or a clear identity for the brand."

Like many others, Friedman blamed Lanvin's management for rushing Lapidus's appointment, and leaving him insufficient time to create a more fleshed-out collection. Her outlook for the brand was bleak: "Lanvin [might] soon be famous not for being the oldest couture house in continual existence, but rather a business school case study in how to wreck a brand in three years."

 

Celine spring/summer 2019, by Vanessa Friedman for the New York Times

When Hedi Slimane was announced as Phoebe Philo's Celine replacement last year, brand devotees were concerned for the cherished, woman-friendly identity which Philo had cultivated throughout her decade at the helm. Backlash against Slimane's runway debut had less to do with his well-established style — which cemented his reputation at Dior Homme and Saint Laurent — and more to do with the extremity of his departure from existing house codes, which many saw as disrespectful to both Philo's work and her loyal clientele.

Old Céline fan Vanessa Friedman took aim at the relevancy of Slimane's youth-obsessed, hedonistic offering: "Two years ago when Mr. Slimane departed fashion [from Saint Laurent], the world was a different place. Women were different. Hell, they were different a few days ago. They have moved on. But he has not. And it meant that, despite an audience crammed with rock’s hipster elite, the lyrics that most came to mind were Mamma Mia! Here we go again."

Slimane's sophomore show indicated that he'd taken the criticisms of Friedman — and many others who shared her opinions — to heart, sending out a collection that, while obviously and vastly more wearable, still fit neatly into his familiar, late '70s universe.

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