The Chiffon Trenches is fashion journalist André Leon Talley’s second memoir. He is open and (as the title suggests) not afraid to hold back on the details – when it comes to both the people who have crossed him and stunning outfits on his famous friends.
In my day job, I work for a fashion brand so I really do enjoy reading fashion memoirs; getting a juicy insight into the lives of the big players and icons in the industry. I found this a really fascinating read, a very interesting insight into the realms of high-fashion.
Opening sentence: ‘For more than four decades, I went through a series of voyages with Vogue magazine and its editor in chief, Anna Wintour, the most powerful person in fashion.’
In The Chiffon Trenches, André gives us an account of his childhood (he was raised by his grandmother and had a tempestuous relationship with his mother), his career trajectory (from his first job at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine through to his time as Creative Director and then Editor-at-Large for American Vogue) and the myriad celebs he’s encountered and befriended through the years.
My great depth of knowledge is the number one skill I possess and has carried me throughout my career to this day.
André also discusses racism and discrimination within the fashion industry. He talks openly about how being a black man in the fashion industry made him a rarity and interestingly discusses brands that are diverse and inclusive and those that are not.
No matter what you do, who you are, what career you choose, as a black man, you realize every day that our country was founded on the misguided rules and conceits of racism and slavery.
I loved discovering how First Lady Jackie Kennedy was the catalyst for his love of fashion and that he went onto become very good friends with her sister, Lee Radziwell. André really did move in exceptional circles.
Through Diana Vreeland I learned to speak the language of style, fantasy and literature.
Legendary American Vogue editor Diana Vreeland had a huge influence on him, personally and professionally. Every other page has a reference to another famous friend: Naomi Campbell, Diane von Furstenburg, Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano to name a few. Two friendships were quite significant…
He had – in my opinion – toxic relationships with two of the biggest names in fashion: US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and designer Karl Lagerfeld. He makes it clear how much each friendship meant to him and was friends with both of them for years and years, but it sadly ended with him being ignored and cut off by both of them. Without him seemingly knowing why in each situation. There are weird dynamics happening, for example Anna Wintour cuts him from Vogue and is cold to him, but he still inexplicably attends her clothes fittings as an advisor out of ‘loyalty’.
Also, he talks about iconic fashion shows – their staging and narrative, without citing Alexander McQueen. He did not like Alexander McQueen, the person, so dismissed his clothes. This is insanity to me. McQueen’s clothes are incomparable.
Andre also veers between saying (about various people) ‘they’re an amazing person’ to ‘this is what a bitch they can be’ in the same paragraph. Yes, this could be most of us but it conveys a weird, mixed vibe. Does he like these people or not?
Editing, but make it fashion
One thing that did bother me was the lack of finesse (hopefully this is due to it being an ARC and will get amended). For example, he twice mentions that British Vogue editor Edward Enninful has been knighted by the Queen and is a Sir, but that’s incorrect. He has an OBE, but is not (yet, anyway) knighted.
I loved the dive behind the scenes of high fashion but I left this book feeling sorry for André. A terrible incident when he was young meant he had trouble letting himself become close to anyone, so never had a significant relationship. Then he was cast aside by two friends he thought of as very close, so yes, he comes across as bitter at times, but perhaps this is justified. It also sort of feels like he was a little used through his career, never quite getting the solid recognition or satisfaction he was looking for and that makes me feel a little sad.