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André Leon Talley Talks ‘The Chiffon Trenches’ Memoir

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During his five decades in fashion, editor and writer André Leon Talley has had a front row seat to the industry’s most important moments — and an invitation to rub elbows with its icons. His latest memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, out May 19, is filled with captivating anecdotes about his many adventures in fashion, spanning from his early days as an intern for Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute to his ascent to creative director at Vogue, where he worked closely with Anna Wintour before stepping back in 2013. (He is now listed by the magazine as a contributing editor.)

But Talley’s career has not been all glamour and style; while stories of glittering runway shows and parties with high-profile friends like Manolo Blahnik and Diane von Furstenberg abound, he also looks back with an unsparing eye on the fickle friendships, cruelty and self-serving nature of an industry often accused of exclusivity. While early coverage of The Chiffon Trenches has honed in on the buzzy details of Talley’s recent falling-out with Wintour, his memoir also reckons with harrowing allegations of discrimination, ranging from a colleague’s use of a racial slur as a nickname for him to one of his bosses at Women’s Wear Daily insinuating during a large meeting that he was having sex with every designer in Paris (the latter incident prompted Talley to resign in protest).

In a phone interview, Talley, who is social distancing at home in White Plains, N.Y., discussed how he responded to adversity in the industry, his favorite memory from Vogue and the most important lessons he learned from his mentor.

Your new memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, is about your decades as a fashion insider. You include many stories about glamorous events, but also many sobering accounts of racism and other kinds of discrimination you faced. Why was it important for you to show both sides of the industry?

As an African American man born in the United States of America, it was important for me to show the building blocks of my story, from my childhood to today. It’s simply a part of the fabric of society in America. Racism is always there, boiling on the front burners, evidenced during this pandemic in the terrible tragedy of Ahmaud Arbery, shot in Georgia in daylight.

Were you worried about being so candid?

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I was not worried, or I wouldn’t have written the book. The book is a consequence of my strength.

For much of your career, you were one of the only black editors in the room, including for most of your time at Condé Nast. How did that impact you and your ambitions?

I may have been the only black person sitting in the front row, but blackness was before me in great counts of beauty, as in the black models, the wonderful black models at Saint Laurent, Givenchy. There were always blackness somewhere in the fashion world, so I never felt alone.

In my daily life, when I was at the apogee of my career, my ethnic color did not affect who I was. What affected me was the injustices, the racist statements that were made about me. I handled it by resigning from Women’s Wear Daily, because I had my own dignity. I am not made by the fashion world. I am made by coming up in the South in my grandmother’s home with great values of tradition, passion, education, religion and being properly decent. So when I confronted these moments of racism, I controlled my narrative by making choices. This is what people do to black men; they criminalize their very existence and they dehumanize them, even in the highest, loftiest world of fashion. But I did not become victimized. I simply soldiered on and did my work.

Did those pressures influence the work you wanted to do as a fashion journalist?

It did not impact what I wanted to do. I always respected my bosses and I did my assignments. Of course, I did creative things like an essay in Vanity Fair under Graydon Carter, who is a great editor. I called him from the phone from Paris and said, “I want to do Gone with the Wind, but I want the black people to be the aristocrats and I want the white people to be the field hands, the so-called indentured servants.” So Manolo Blahnik was a gardener, Naomi Campbell was Scarlett O’Hara and John Galliano was the house servant, cleaning the house and polishing the silver. This was one of the greatest things I’ve done in fashion, and it did have an impact. But I didn’t think about that every day, like, “How can I flip the switch?” My agenda was to do excellent work and to be perceived as a person who was talented and knew what he was talking about.

How do you think, on a more structural level, we can ensure that fashion is more diverse and more inclusive, not just in terms of the people who we see, but also the people in power?

It’s a consciousness. By being very conscious of diversity, by being able to articulate it to people in powerful positions, by perhaps being a person who is an influencer or considered an icon and who can impart to the world that diversity is, and should be, an aspect of progress.

What would you say to people who ask if you could have done more to increase opportunities for diversity in the fashion industry?

I would say, well, you try it. Walk in my shoes and see what you could do. … I didn’t have a bullhorn or a pulpit. I was brought up to be a quiet advocate for the injustices that have been going on for hundreds of years in this country based on the idea of white supremacy, which is really a vile, terrible thing. I hope that I’ve contributed something.

Diana Vreeland had a huge influence on you as a mentor, especially during the start of your career. What is the most important thing that you learned from her?

To be enthusiastic, to be curious and to have discipline. To help and be kind, to have decency and empathy. My advice to anyone [looking to work in fashion] is to never give up your dream. Do your homework — which is to say, do your research — and just keep the faith. Keep the faith, baby.

Is there a moment during your time in fashion that’s stayed with you as being the most significant?

The moment when Michelle Obama became First Lady and I had been given the honor by Anna Wintour to profile her for the March issue of Vogue. That was a great moment for Vogue and a great moment for me, to have been a part of that. I went to Washington in December to write the profile, and I got to participate in the inaugural festivities. I’m very proud of that.

You write very honestly about how some of your longtime friendships have evolved or ended, particularly with two very polarizing industry figures, Karl Lagerfeld and Wintour. How do you make peace with a friendship that’s run its course?

I soldier on and keep holding onto my faith in precious memories. I find a way to survive through the great moments — the gilded age of my friendships with wonderful, iconic and powerful people.

What have you been doing while social distancing? Are you still dressing up during the pandemic?

I’m not doing anything special besides reading a lot. I’m reading [Blake] Gopnik’s 900-page biography of Warhol and listening to music, watching old movies on TCM and a lot of Netflix. One of the greatest things I’ve watched in the last week is Michelle Obama’s Becoming, the documentary of her book tour, which is wonderful. I’ve watched it twice. And I don’t dress up. I wake up and put on the same thing I’ve worn for the last 10 years — a caftan.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.

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Fashion & Style

Bobby Grierson obituary | Art and design

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My friend Bobby Grierson, who has died suddenly aged 64, after heart surgery, was an accomplished fashion and graphic designer, a DJ, artist, poet, photographer, drag performer and community activist.

He was empathetic and witty, and held fast to his roots, socialist values and unstinting passion for fairness and equality. A native of Cumnock, birthplace of Keir Hardie, he spoke his Ayrshire Scots with eloquence and a levelling barb that was a joy to hear, and a generosity of spirit that won many enduring friendships.

The son of Bill, a baker who also worked for Cumnock Juniors football club, and Cathy, a spinner at the wool mill, Bobby went to school at Cumnock academy, then on to study fashion at Edinburgh College of Art in 1976. He embraced the punk cultural revolution and student politics, as comfortable marching under a banner as spinning discs on a DJ console. Wherever the action was, his input, exuberance and elan were crucial to what was happening. He was an out gay man when it was hard to be so, and he helped win acceptance for today’s young people.

As a DJ for the nightclubs Valentinos, JJ’s, the Backroom and Blue Mondays at Fire Island, he provided the soundtrack for Edinburgh’s post-punk scene, with an ability to engage an audience that endured throughout the 1980s and 90s. Clubs he ran with friends in the city’s cavernous bowels mined the best of dance and electronic music.

Never a follower, Bobby was an observer, adapter and innovator. He had a unique take on drag, formed through early 80s performances of Genet plays with Lindsay Kemp’s Edinburgh devotees. His occasional performances as Doris De Luxe linked his musical and fashion interests. He was co-founder in 1984 of the fashion outlet Greylight, and designed for friends and luminaries across Scotland. His clothes made wearers feel fabulous, but the store’s fate – it folded in 1988 – reflected his total disregard for money. Extravagance took on a new meaning with him – restaurants, fashion emporiums and bars all benefited from his profligate generosity.

Bobby embraced web design while retaining a skill for creating enthralling physical artefacts and he brought these talents together at Greater Pilton Design Resource, a community arts centre in north Edinburgh where he found, inspired and nurtured creativity in others. In the mid-1990s he set up D4Digital, creating web presences for fellow artists, artisans, social enterprises and campaigns.

Returning to Cumnock in 2011 to care for his mother, Bobby took up gardening, winning prizes in the local competition. He rediscovered his camera and wrote poetry to accompany the results. He chaired the local history group, and investigated and preserved much for future generations, skilled at getting others involved in valuing the town’s history and community.

Bobby is survived by his sisters, Anne and Beth, and his brother, David.

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Fashion & Style

We Lost Our Parents in the 2004 Tsunami

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In 2004 my family’s world was turned upside down. My siblings and I tragically lost our parents in the Boxing Day Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami …

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Sustainable cult tracksuit brand celebrates World Oceans Day

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Sustainable cult tracksuit brand celebrates World Oceans Day

Responsible production is at the heart of Pangaia, a streetwear brand that uses natural dyes such as cherry blossom instead of harsh chemicals. To honour World Oceans Day on Monday 8 June 2020, it launches organic cotton

Pangaia has rocketed to cult status over the past 18 months by placing sustainability at its core, calling itself ‘a materials science company on a mission to save our environment.’ New drops of its recycled cotton sweatshirts, joggers and T-shirts sell out within hours of landing on its website.

Known for its colourful tracksuits and sustainable practices, Pangaia takes its name from a compound of Pan, meaning ‘all-inclusive, especially in relation to the whole of a continent, racial group or religion’ and Gaia, meaning Mother Earth. Today, it launches news colours inspired by the world’s three largest bodies of water: The Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Other mouth-watering colours are created from natural botanical dyes such as red rubia root and cherry blossom – much kinder to the environment than harsh chemicals. 

Natural Fibres

Pangaia has been connected to the oceans since its inception. Partnering with the world’s leading research institutes has allowed the brand to develop a raft of new technology-based fabrics that can be responsibly produced. Primarily, the natural fibre used in the T-shirts is derived from salt-water seaweed, which grows abundantly in an ocean habitat without the need for pesticides or fresh water and is responsibly harvested to naturally regenerate. Also, thermal puffer jackets are insulated by cruelty-free FLWRDWN, a patented combination of biodegradable dried flowers and a biopolymer – it took over a decade to develop this proprietary science. In place of a brand logo, sweats carry the disclaimer, “This hoodie is made from recycled and organic cotton mix”. The clothes are produced in Portugal, a country lauded for its expert manufacturing and standards, and each product comes in TIPA packaging, a non-toxic bio-based plastic alternative that can be composted. 

Giving Back 

Philanthropy is woven through Pangaia’s operations. The brand is currently supporting SeaTreas, an ocean-focused climate change platform: $1 from each item sold is donated to towards the planting of a mangrove tree in Indonesia – each $1 buys one tree that sequesters 1 ton of CO2. Pangaia has also supported Doctors Without Borders and multiple wildlife sanctuaries and conservation programmes. 

Designed and run by a global collective of designers, scientists and technologists based mainly between New York and London, the brand is headed up by fashion industry entrepreneur Miroslava Duma. “We are a team of 90% women and it actually was not on purpose, but we think it’s extremely powerful that we are. These women are all leaders and visionaries in their respective fields- we have alumni from MIT, Stanford, FIT, INSEAD, we have former top management from LVMH, Kering, Boston Consulting Group etc. Mira Duma is the heart and soul of the collective,” says the brand, collectively.

Duckling yellow, persimmon, dusky lavendar and plum shades are inspired by the vibrant, juicy colours of wildlife and landscapes

 

Hoodie in ’Indian Ocean Blue’ for World Oceans Day

Trackpants in ’Atlantic Ocean Blue’

Long Sleeve Cropped T-Shirt in ’Pacific Ocean Blue’

 

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