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VANESSA’S BIG MOVE: The New York Times has found itself a lead fashion critic.
Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor of the Financial Times, has been appointed fashion director and chief fashion critic of the Times, following a trio of recent big-name departures; Eric Wilson, Cathy Horyn and Suzy Menkes.
“This is an opportunity to rethink or reshape the way the Styles department looks and how it covers fashion,” Friedman told WWD on Wednesday. “The New York Times is an incredible newspaper. I’m from New York and it’s my hometown paper. It’s shaped the way I see journalism to be. It’s a great opportunity.”
Friedman’s appointment is hardly shocking — her name had surfaced as a potential replacement for Wilson, who decamped for InStyle in October. The Times wound up splitting Wilson’s job between two reporters, John Koblin and Matthew Schneier. Friedman’s name resurfaced when lead critic Horyn resigned on Jan. 31, just days ahead of New York Fashion Week.
When asked at Ralph Lauren’s spring runway show on Feb. 13 about speculation she was in the running to succeed Horyn, Friedman laughed nervously and said: “I really don’t want to answer this.” Moments later, she added: “I don’t comment on rumors.”
With Horyn out, that left the lion’s share of reviews this season to Menkes, who wound up finishing her fashion season for the Times with her own announcement of plans to leave for Condé Nast International. According to sources, Menkes’ move put heat on the paper, which needed at least one big name with some fashion clout to fill the void left from Horyn’s defection.
With her 11-year career as FT’s fashion editor, Friedman fit the bill, and this time, the offer was sweeter.
“Events changed,” Friedman said. “Cathy resigned and then Suzy resigned, and that changed the shape of things. It was kind of just coincidental.”
In her new job, Friedman will essentially pick up both Horyn’s and Menkes’ duties, and she will report to Styles editor Stuart Emmrich. He explained that while Friedman will be based in New York, she would serve as the chief fashion critic for the Times, the International New York Times and for the New York Times global Web site. Her appointment does mark a major shift in another respect: It ends more than 60 years of the International Herald Tribune — which became the International New York Times late last year — having a fashion critic based in Paris.
“It’s a really different role. I’m not being Cathy. I’m not being Suzy. I’m not ‘Suthy,’” Friedman said with a hint of levity. “In no way am I trying to replace them. I have enormous respect for them. I’m someone else.”
Friedman, who does not have an official start date yet, will also work with Emmrich and T magazine editor Deborah Needleman on organizing the publication’s annual luxury conference, which takes place in December.
When asked who initially approached her for the Times job, Friedman sidestepped the question, noting that she’s “known everybody” there, from sitting and chatting at the “endless Armani dinners” during fashion week.
Either way, Friedman’s role at the Times will be somewhat similar to her role at the FT, where she also played a vital role in organizing its luxury summit, which will take place in two months in Mexico City. With that on the horizon, finding Friedman’s successor is pressing. An FT spokeswoman declined to comment on the status of the search.
Backing Friedman’s critic duties will be Alexandra Jacobs, who was promoted from Styles editor to fashion critic and features writer. Jacobs will start her new gig as soon as a replacement has been found for her. Emmrich declined to comment if there would be an external search for Jacobs’ successor, but executive editor Jill Abramson told WWD at the South by Southwest Festival last weekend that the paper “may even fortify the staff even more.”
The rejiggering and expansion of the department emphasizes the broadening of the paper’s fashion coverage. The Times plans to up its coverage in Asia, as well as review more women’s and men’s fashion shows. That sentiment was echoed by Friedman, who called the new Styles team part of an “evolution” for the department. In the meantime, the new fashion director is gearing up for spring break in Wyoming with her kids. Like her new job, she called the timing of her vacation to the departure from the FT “just coincidental.”