Givhan Packs Her Heels, Heads for Newsweek

The Post’s fashion critic is the latest in a series of departures—and a second high-profile loss to Tina Brown

By: Harry Jaffe

Tina Brown sealed the deal with Robin Givhan about a month ago at the Hay-Adams hotel.

“I felt tremendously energized,” Givhan tells Washingtonian. “We had a great time tossing around ideas.”

And so the Washington Post’s trademark fashion critic will leave the paper after a decade and start writing for Brown’s publications, Newsweek and The Daily Beast. She starts January 10.

“I felt we were completely on the same page,” she says.

And the pages of the Washington Post will lose another brand name, adding to a recent exodus that includes media reporter Howard Kurtz, sports columnist Michael Wilbon, and art critic Blake Gopnik. Post editors didn’t respond to questions about whether the paper would hire another fashion critic.

Givhan, 46, wasn’t looking for a new gig and says, “Newsweek was not on my radar.”

Though she heaps praise on the Post for allowing her to write about fashion, style, and culture, and the intersection of those subjects with politics, she acknowledges that she was moved by “a sense of vague uneasiness and unrest” in the newsroom.

She expects none of that at Newsweek.

“We talked about my writing about television or fashion or film,” she says. “Some out of Los Angeles. I have an idea for a story out of Detroit.”

A Detroit native, Givhan graduated from Princeton and got a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Michigan. She wrote for the Detroit Free Press and the San Francisco Chronicle before joining the Post in 1995. She had a brief dalliance with Anna Wintour at Vogue but returned to the Post. She won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2006.

Fashionistas can’t count on reading Givhan’s reviews of the runways of Milan and Paris in her new beat.

“Fashion will still be a part of my broader mandate,” she says. “I’ll be able to do features and check out the shows, but I will not be going there purely as a fashion person.”

As the fashion person at the Post, Givhan didn’t shy away from sensitive subjects and jabbed hard at high-ranking people. She enraged many Washington women early on in her career by poking fun at their penchant for wearing running shoes rather than heels as part of their businesslike dress code. During Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearings, she wrote that his family “coordinated their ensembles in the manner of a family heading off to the Sears photo studio.” She noted that Elena Kagan, in her hearings, rarely crossed her legs. She often wrote admiringly of First Lady Michelle Obama’s wardrobe but questioned her for sporting shorts on a visit to a national park.

But politics began to confine her.

“The Post has its mission, its philosophy,” she says. “I was trying to figure out how secure my area of coverage would be with the paper ever more focused on politics. The reality is the fashion industry is based in New York, Milan, and Paris. It’s not related to policy news out of Washington.”

“I was reassured time after time that covering fashion and style and arts are essential to the paper,” she says.

Both Post Company chairman Don Graham and publisher Katharine Weymouth tried to convince her to stay. She still left for Tina Brown’s Newsweek—which was owned by the Post until August, when Graham sold it to industrialist and philanthropist Sid Harman, who merged it with Brown’s The Daily Beast.

Newsweek hasn’t lacked in cultural coverage, and its reputation has always been the hipper alternative to Time—and the Washington Post. Brown seems to expect Givhan to be a roving critic who can cast a gimlet eye on a broad palate, rather than a beat writer assessing only dance or music. If Brown’s choice of Givhan gives us a sense of her taste in writers, she likes the ones who are fearless and willing to take risks, in the manner of some in the British press.

But Givhan had to accept some risk in throwing her lot in with Brown. She’s known to be willful and demanding with her staff and quick to discard those who don’t measure up. The Post might have been staid in comparison, but at least it was secure—but then, Robin Givhan has long criticized Washington women for sticking simply to what’s safe.

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