“In 2020 one makes one’s own rules, as long as you have knowledge to watch your back. Dreams can come true for anyone who wants to become. Fear is no longer a barrier.”The Chiffon Trenches, Page 262
Andre Leon Talley’s latest memoir, the Chiffon Trenches, has been making headlines for the past few weeks, as a tome that torches former colleague and Vogue Editrix, Anna Wintour. Though the Devil Wears Prada book turned movie gave us a glimpse into her alleged coldness, Andre Leon Talley’s novel is less about Anna, and more about his life as a whole. Anna is certainly mentioned several times throughout the book (He writes, “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Anna Wintour,”) but Anna shouldn’t steal the show: the spotlight is on Talley’s lofty life, transformed from well curated myth into reality.
Talley enthusiasts have undoubtedly already read his first memoir, ALT, which describes his upbringing in Durham, North Carolina with his grandmother, Bennie Frances Davis, as idyllic (or as he would say, halcyon). Andre’s rise through the ranks from Interview to Women’s Wear Daily, to Vogue, was then described as swift, and almost without incident. He admits in the Chiffon Trenches, that he censored himself , because, “ I still had to bite my tongue about certain people, for fear of reprisal.”
In the Chiffon Trenches, the kid skin gloves are off. Talley stops being polite, and starts getting real. He discusses his tense relationship with his mother, whom he admits loved him, but didn’t really like him. As a result, he didn’t like her. Though he lapped up the love of his grandmother, his strained relationship and lack of acceptance from his mother stung. As he said in the last line of his book, “I always wanted love.”
He also tells the world why we have never heard of him being romantically involved. He was molested, repeatedly, as a teenager, by a group of local boys. He never shared his trauma, and never sought help. He clammed up and never pursued a life partner–or counseling. An admittedly flawed man, Talley confesses that a lot of his problems–from his mother to his molestation–could have been tended to by an intermediary, a psychologist, perhaps. But instead, he drowned himself in work, covered his sorrows with copious sweets, and ultimately created a fantastical world of his design, where he could avoid, or rather ignore, the real world.
The fashion industry creates an illusion. We all know this, but we go along for the ride. Deep inside we know that that bodycon dress won’t look the same on us as it does the model. But we’re drawn in, until the spandex snaps us awake.
Unfortunately, Andre believed the lie a little too long. His charm (he was once told he could charm snakes out of a tree) gave him entrance into elite circles and led him to perches on front rows: sweet perks he enjoyed. But those perks also had a sour, bitter after taste–Karl Lagerfeld, a longtime confidant, abruptly stopped talking to Andre after a 40 year friendship. Andre was made an editor at the Paris bureau of Women’s Wear Daily–but ultimately resigned because of an editor’s insulting remarks about his alleged sexual escapades. He was the toast of the town in Paris, but behind his back, a publicist referred to him as “Queen Kong.” Oh, and there’s more: According to the novel, designer Halston once served André a mound of cocaine for dessert after a decadent dinner, Yves Saint Laurent was apparently an egomaniacal drug addict who could be ‘mean as a viper,’ John Galliano was ungrateful, and Anna was cold, heartless, and inhumane. For so long, he knew this, but revealing the truth would have been career suicide. So he kept it tucked away, instead painting these normal, flawed people as legends, nay icons.
Andre is a fantastically transportive writer–one of the best to ever hold a pen. His ability to paint a picture with words is world class. He can make you believe something seemingly mundane is the cat’s meow. Of socialite Lee Bouvier Radziwill, his dear friend, to whom he dedicates his book, he describes the outfit below, writing, “In my favorite photograph of Lee, she is with Truman Capote.. Lee with her natural beautiful hair (which had been washed when she was a child in pure egg yolks) and big television screen sunglasses; a shirtwaist dress, single buttoned and cinched in a tortoiseshell belt made of circles hooked by gold links; and her Roger Vivier pilgrim buckled shoes. This is the modern, of the moment, “It Girl”, Lee. “
Does Lee look chic? Certainly. But her hair looks normal, not as if it were bathed in pure egg yolks. Her shirt dress and belt are fine. She looks like a girl, not an It Girl. But Andre’s musings could make anything seem larger than life, even when it came to his own life.
Andre’s art of making the ordinary sound extraordinary, is why the upper crust and the fashion elite kept him around. With them, their shoes weren’t just red, but “Dal Co’ of Rome red court shoes, with extravagant Regency bows,” His words made everything seem bigger and grander than what they were. In reality, they were often plain, unimpressive, and as Ralph Rucci described La Wintour, “mediocre.“
The problem is that Andre believed what he wrote. He fell for the beautiful story, the wonderful lie. He truly believed the fantasy–not just the fiction he wrote in Vogue, but that those same people who populated the pages and masthead cared for him (though he was great friends with Mrs. Bouvier Radziwill, and dedicates his book to her, when she passed away, he wasn’t sure if he was on the list to attend her funeral). He believed he truly mattered to them, and for a time, perhaps he did.
He was swept up into the fantasy of the fashion world, a world to which he contributed immensely. And now, in his 70’s, left off the list and replaced by younger bloggers with millions of followers (He writes, “When they’ve decided you’re done, you’re just thrown out the door, like trash,”), his health failing and mobility issues, he is forced to wake up and realize: It was all a dream.
A very beautiful dream.
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