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André Leon Talley’s New Memoir, ‘The Chiffon Trenches,’ Goes Beyond the Glamour

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André Leon Talley is most definitely not quarantining in sweatpants.

Like most everyone else on the planet, the former Vogue creative director, iconic fashion editor, author, and one-time judge on America’s Next Top Model has been keeping close to home during the coronavirus pandemic. But even during this era of cancelled Met Galas and nonexistent soirees, he wouldn’t dare put on anything as basic as sweats.

“If people want to resort to that, it’s their choice,” says Talley, one of the most revered titans of the fashion world for over 40 years. Instead of sweats, on most shelter-in-place days, Talley can often be found donning his signature look: one of his many resplendent caftans, which have become synonymous with his 6’6” frame and his charismatic presence.

In his new book, The Chiffon Trenches (which follows Talley’s 2003 memoir A.L.T. and the 2018 documentary about his life, The Gospel According to André), Talley writes, “Caftans are my wellness retreat.” He later states, “I intend to leave in my will that I am to be cremated in a caftan.”

But we’re not on the phone to talk about caftans; we’re on the phone to talk about his new book, his life, and his impact as a black man from the Jim Crow South who went to New York in 1974, broke barriers, and made an enduring imprint on the world of high fashion, and on culture at large.

Yes, The Chiffon Trenches offers up plenty of delicious gossip and envy-inducing name-drops (think mounds of cocaine served in sterling silver bowls for dessert at Halston’s house, or at the complete other end of the spectrum, hanging out with Oprah, Tina Turner and Michelle Obama — at the same time). Talley also openly dishes on his years at Vogue and his on-again-off-again relationship with the magazine’s notoriously icy Editor-In-Chief, Anna Wintour. But in the midst of all the glamour, the book also has heartbreak. Talley writes beautifully and sorrowfully about his years in the segregated South, the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, his struggle with weight, and the lack of romantic love that he channeled into a passion for his career.

The Chiffon Trenches, out May 19, offers up a world of crepe de Chine shirts, cashmere twinsets, and caviar, but it also tells the story of a man whose journey and whose voice changed fashion forever. As Talley writes, “I was aware I was the only black person sitting on the front row in Paris at the haute couture. There was a corresponding pressure that I had to behave a certain way. I felt a responsibility, as a black man, not to f-ck it up.”

Here, Talley speaks to Shondaland about the book, his legacy, and the true meaning of glamour.


DINA GACHMAN: You’ve written a previous memoir and you’ve been the subject of a documentary, so what made you want to continue that story with The Chiffon Trenches?

ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY: In speaking to me, you are speaking to a black man born in America, a descendant of enslaved people from Africa. My memoir, and anything I do in my life, must be seen as a paradigm of a man who is a consequence of enslaved people. My book is simply a consequence of looking at the institution of slavery up until 2020. This is a country in which we are not only suffering from the pandemic; we are suffering from the virus of racism. I control my narrative because if I don’t control it my story could end up a different kind of story. This is why we have The Chiffon Trenches.

DG: One of the most important figures in your story — if not the most important — is your grandmother, who raised you. Her memory threads through nearly every chapter, whether you’re writing about going to church as a kid in Durham or attending Met Galas.

ALT: I take my wonderful, rich, yet very poor life with my grandmother wherever I go. She was a domestic maid at Duke University for five decades of her life. She cleaned the toilets and made the beds of the white men on the Duke campus for 50 years as her career. I can only hope to establish a legacy to all the grandmothers, mothers, and aunts, to all the maids and laundresses who put money aside for their own children’s education, and who give them a structure and good values, which is what my grandmother gave to me. This book is an epistle of love and joy for my grandmother and for all of the people who have come through my life: Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Diana Vreeland, John Galliano, Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren, and Andy Warhol, who was a great mentor to me. It’s also a love letter to Vogue, but it’s my letter.

anna wintour, karl lagerfeld, venus williams and andré leon talley attend the nina ricci after party for the met ball on may 5, 2008 in new york cit

Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, Venus Williams and André Leon Talley attend the Nina Ricci after party for the Met Ball on May 5, 2008 in New York Cit.

Patrick McMullanGetty Images

DG: You speak highly of Vogue and Anna Wintour, but you also don’t sugar coat the culture there in any way.

ALT: The institution and the culture of Vogue magazine is one of great standards for hundreds of years. This is my point of view of that culture, having been wrapped in the cloth of that culture for so long. It’s about what my contributions were to help form that culture of fashion. Anna Wintour is the empress of the culture, of course.

DG: Has she read the book?

ALT: She read the galleys and gave a few notes, but I haven’t heard from her since. I hope we will go forward and that she’ll see something in the book that helps us go forward.

DG: In the book you write, “My life was cushioned to the hilt,” which sounds very different from your upbringing in Durham. You seem to move between those worlds with ease, and you credit your grandmother with instilling an appreciation for, if not luxury, then refinement. I’m curious from your perspective, what constitutes luxury?

ALT: To me, luxury is not just about a ride on the Concorde or wearing a sable-lined raincoat. That’s one kind of material luxury. It does not compare, though, to the extraordinary luxury of one’s emotional sustainability through the luxury of love, which comes through the nurturing of other people. My grandmother made me my own pan of biscuits every Sunday morning — my own pan of 12 hot, fresh biscuits. Luxury is having a home that is impeccably clean. My grandmother taught me to wax wood floors. I remember the luxury of running through lines of fresh white sheets drying outside in the open air, after they had been boiled in a big black pot. We did not have wealth or extraordinary furniture, but we had the luxury of love and cleanliness. That’s what luxury is to me: The simple beauty of geraniums in clay pots on a porch in summertime; family reunions at church; good, simple home-cooked food; shared recipes passed down verbally. That’s why I can go from writing about the luxury of a Vuitton suitcase to the dark secrets of sexual abuse, almost within one page.

andre leon talley and naomi campbell attend day two of arise fashion week on april 20, 2019 in lagos, nigeria

Andre Leon Talley and Naomi Campbell attend Arise Fashion Week on April 20, 2019 in Lagos, Nigeria.

David M. BenettGetty Images

DG: Your life story often inspires young black designers or models or writers, when they see what you endured and what you’ve achieved throughout your career. When young people come to you for advice, what do you tell them?

ALT: Just keep holding on to your faith, and to the motivation that compels you not to give up on your dream. Hold on to that value, whatever it is — religion or a mentor or maybe the pride instilled in you by your parents or a teacher. There must be something very strong in your core, or something outside like a mentor to sustain you. I came to New York in 1974 after college, and my mentor, Diana Vreeland, told me not to go home over Christmas one winter. She told me to stay in New York and things would happen for me. By January 1975, I had a job at Andy Warhol’s Factory. I never gave up and always looked up. No matter how high you go, you always have to look up. There is always someone higher than you to look up to. It could be a person or a tree or a memory or something strong. It will sustain you.

DG: What’s sustaining you now, during these tough times?

ALT: I always came back to the strong memory of my grandmother and her fortitude. I always go back to my church, which pours into me the ability to survive. Now I watch church on livestream, and I am always renewed; I can always take from that bank account. I got here on the strength of other people — the teachers at my segregated public high school, my grandmother, people like Diana Vreeland or Andy Warhol, my mom and dad. I always strive to make those people proud. My roots are as deep as a 400-year-old oak tree.


Dina Gachman is the author of Brokenomics. Follow her on Twitter @TheElf26.

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Fashion & Style

Amazon’s ‘Big Style Sale’ Aims to Boost Retailers Impacted by COVID-19

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(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Amazon Prime Day may be postponed this year, but Amazon is still planning to hold a summer sale this month for those retailers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a memo sent to sellers, and viewed by CNBC, Amazon will host a “Fashion Summer Sale Event” starting June 22. Expected to run for seven to 10 days, the digital spree aims to “drive excitement and jump-start sales,” the document said.

Less than three weeks ahead of the affair, details are still being finalized. Amazon is working on landing pages and has reportedly asked sellers to submit deals with a discount of at least 30 percent, CNBC said. It’s unclear whether items will be reduced for all shoppers or only Prime members.

“The ‘Big Style Sale’ is slated to take place later this month and will include seasonally relevant deals from both established and smaller fashion brands,” an Amazon spokesperson told PCMag in an emailed statement. “We are delighted to help brands connect with our vast global customer base for this event.”

The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the world, bringing chaos and disorder to the health, education, and business sectors. Everyone from local Mom-and-Pop stores to global conglomerates have felt the effects of this pandemic. Amazon’s annual Prime Day shopping event, normally held in July, appears to be postponed until later this year, according to Reuters.

The e-commerce giant, flooded with online orders, has been prioritizing those for essential goods like groceries, cleaning items, and medical supplies. Shipping times for purchases have slipped to five days or longer, even for Prime subscribers. Despite trying to hire an additional 100,000 workers, some warehouses have reported cases of employees contracting coronavirus. The risk of infection, along with staff protests, has prompted Amazon to distribute face masks and conduct temperature checks.

All of which suggests that holding Prime Day during a crisis would be a logistical nightmare for the already overstretched company. (Last year’s event sold a record-breaking 175 million items to members worldwide.) How Amazon will handle a summer sale instead remains to be seen.

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Four simple games that will keep your unruly kids entertained for at least 20 minutes

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It’s been a long time since lockdown started. For some of us that’s meant weeks of mindless TV-watching and worrying about the future. For anyone with kids, it’s been hectic, busy, chaos, juggling jobs with being a parent and teacher 24/7. Don’t fear if you’ve run out of ideas for fun things to do. We got Mike Rampton, author of new kids’ games book ‘Open in Case of Emergency’ (Pop Press, £9.99), to reveal four you can play with minimal effort, minimal mess and minimal outside. 

1. Beasts in the tundra

A bit of preparation the night before and everyone becomes an archaeologist.

Age Four and up
Players Two and up (dependent on freezer space).
What you need One plastic box and one toy per player or team, a freezer.
How to play Freeze the toys in water in the plastic boxes the night before. Action figures or dinosaurs are ideal, and you can consider adding food colouring to the water to make it that bit wackier. Players then have to release their creatures from their frozen slumbers – just like Captain America – before their opponents do. Breathing heavily on to the ice, rubbing it or wrapping it up might all work, or (with adult supervision) heat and gravity can work wonders…

2. Blow football

A huffing, puffing, indoor version of the world’s most popular sport.

Age Five and up.
Players Two.
What you need Two straws, a ping-pong ball and something for goals: margarine tubs, books, whatever works.
How to play Mark out a pitch (or use something that already has two ends, like a rug or a table) using tape if needed. Work out where the centre line is, and go for it [blowing the ball through the straws], trying to score goals against your opponent. If anyone touches the ball with their hands, the other player gets a penalty from the centre line. The first to five goals wins.

Or blow skiing

Make a slalom course around a table using whatever is to hand – clumps of Blu-Tack with toothpicks sticking up out of them and a little paper flag make very nice ski gates, for instance. Take it in turns to do time trials [blowing the ball] around the course, with a ten-second penalty for every flag hit and a 30-second penalty if the ball falls off the table.

3. The great sock hunt

A scavenger hunt that makes up in ease for what it lacks in glamour.

Age Five and up.
Players Two and up.
What you need As many different pairs of socks as you wish.
How to play Hide one sock from every pair around the house, then present players with a pile of odd socks. Within a time limit (which depends on how big the house is, how many socks you’ve hidden, how good at hiding socks you are, and how good at finding socks they are – start with five minutes and experiment), and never carrying more than one sock at a time, can they reunite all the pairs?

Or super secret sock search

Hide the odd socks apart from one, which, instead of being hidden somewhere around the house, goes in your pocket. Players take it in turns to spend one minute each searching for socks, with each one they find eliminating one option as to what your pocketed ‘secret sock’ could be. The player who correctly describes that sock wins.

4. Five pence hockey

Air hockey tables cost a fortune. This alternative costs less than anything.

Age Seven and up.
Players Two.
What you need A table, tape, two 2p coins, one 1p coin.
How to play Don’t play on a table that is likely to get scratched – that’ll make the game a lot more expensive. Use the tape to mark out equally sized goals. Then stand one at either end and play hockey: slide your 2p around with your middle finger, using the penny as a puck. First to ten goals wins.

In homeschooling hell? An expert reveals how to make things as good as they can be.

What to stream if you’re in lockdown with kids.

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Amazon announces its 10-day summer fashion sale Video

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