In the age of Instagram, what more can a memoir tell us about someone’s life that a photo grid hasn’t already?
Plenty, especially if it’s written by fashion icon André Leon Talley. In his upcoming book, titled “The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir”, the former editor-at-large of Vogue chronicles his years at the magazine while shedding light on the many personalities of fashion’s old guard. That includes his former boss Anna Wintour, who had also been his friend for decades before he was unceremoniously given the silent treatment.
In his book, which Talley emailed a copy of to Wintour for any edits, he details how he was replaced by YouTube star Liza Koshy as Vogue’s red carpet interviewer for the 2018 Met Gala — without being notified. “This was clearly a stone-cold business decision,” wrote Talley. “I had suddenly become too old, too overweight, too uncool, I imagined, for Anna Wintour.”
He hasn’t heard from Wintour since the incident, but things had already gotten chilly between the two long before that. In 2016, Talley hosted a fashion podcast for Vogue that was highly successful, featuring guests like Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Kim Kardashian. After Talley voiced his issues with how little he was being paid for it, the podcast was axed by Wintour with no explanations.
Still, Talley also reveals other sides of the Vogue editor-in-chief, who has been nicknamed “Nuclear Wintour” for her icy demeanour which inspired Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. After all, the pair had been pretty close: they were seat partners on the front row of runway shows for years, and Talley was one of the few friends invited to Wintour’s wedding. Talley also reveals that Wintour had staged an intervention to help him overcome his obesity, offering him a place at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center.
“There are parts in the book where I say that some of the best years of my life were at Vogue,” says Talley. “And the career beginning in 1983, basically I owe it to Anna Wintour.”
Aside from Wintour, Talley shared anecdotes about his other mentors, such as Andy Warhol. In 1974, the pop artist set Talley on his journalism career by hiring him to write for Interview magazine. Talley remembers his first job fondly, praising Warhol: “He did not judge people; you could say or do anything. Drag queens were as important as Princess Caroline of Monaco. Grace Jones was treated like Caroline Kennedy. It was wonderful to be around him.”
He had also worked alongside another iconic fashion figure: Diana Vreeland. He met the former fashion editor, who had helmed both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, as a volunteer at The Met’s Costume Institute. Describing her as “never frivolous or pretentious”, Talley shared: “She walked on her toes. You never heard her heels click. She would go into her office and have her little cucumber sandwiches and a tiny thing of vodka or Scotch, and that would get her going.”
Besides a flair for the dramatic, the pair, who remained friends until Vreeland’s death in 1989, had another thing in common: they were brusquely booted from Vogue. “As soon as they fired Diana Vreeland, they had to lock the door,” wrote Talley. “They did not want to tell her that she was fired. They just told her she had to go. Then she came to work, the door was locked and they changed the office from red to beige.”
Having spent over 50 years in the fashion world, Talley mentions other famous faces that he met during his career. That includes the late Karl Lagerfeld, whom Talley profiled during his stint at Interview magazine. The two became fast friends, bonding over 18th century French fashion and their love for “luxury in all forms”. Lagerfeld also confided in Talley about his childhood, revealing how his domineering mother sometimes relented and let him skip school to “watch movies all day.”
There are also light-hearted moments to be found in Talley’s book, such as his royal encounter with Princess Diana. Recalling a party at which he accidentally spilled a glass of wine on her, he wrote, “The room gasped — she was wearing a lavender Versace suit — but she brushed it aside and said: ‘It’s nothing.’”
Talley’s book comes out in September, but for now you can discover his journey into becoming of fashion’s most influential figures through his 2017 documentary, The Gospel According to André.