From the pages of Vogue to the runways of Paris, this deeply revealing memoir by a legendary style icon captures the fashion world from the inside out, in its most glamorous and most cutthroat moments.
André Leon Talley, or A.L.T. as he is sometimes known, is a man whose life has been largely concerned with appearances, of every kind. His new memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, is a story of someone—and in this he is not unusual in the fashion pantheon—who seems to exist primarily in the reflected glory of others, and in particular of Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour. His raison d’être was bestowed by them. And then removed ... For anyone who judges the worth of a memoir by how prepared the writer is to dish on those around them, The Chiffon Trenches will not disappoint ... Memoirs come in all shapes and sizes, just like fashion personalities. This one is a bumper edition of grievances about and glimpses into the personal lives of those who encountered the writer ... It is, naturally, a mesmerizing read, and one which a reader unfamiliar with this febrile world might well imagine to be fiction ... Leon Talley not only traveled far from the world of his upbringing, but his story is hugely influenced by how he feels about what it has meant to be a person of color. Throughout these pages, no matter how glamorous his days and nights, how famous the milieu, how well paid he might be, the issue of race is as visible as the color of his skin ... He loves his clothes, cares deeply about the creative process, and is a brilliant cheerleader for talent. But overriding this is his concern with his and others’ standing and clout.
In America, if you are black and aim higher than the reach history has set for you, the white gaze will try to leech your spirit of its racial identity. Very often, it will succeed. Such is the case with the fashion fixture and former Vogue editor at large André Leon Talley, whose memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, is at once a summing-up of his decades-long career and a pointed commentary on how whiteness works ... Can his blackness simultaneously be unimportant, and also allow him to stand out among white titans? ... And yet, Talley doesn’t directly challenge anyone about the racism. His time working at Ebony magazine gets a single chapter, revealing little about what it was like to be embraced by black industry insiders who were proving to be as important in the fashion world as their white counterparts ... By the time we arrive at the point where Talley admits, 'I’m not belittling myself to say my strength was in my ability to be beside a small, great, powerful white woman,' he has already belittled himself in about 50 different ways ... For all its name-dropping, backstabbing, outsize egos, vivid description and use of words like 'bespoke' and 'sang-froid' The Chiffon Trenches is less about the fashion elite than it is about a black boy from the rural South who got swallowed whole by the white gaze and was spit out as a too-large black man when he no longer fit the narrative. But the white gaze has done its work, and Talley’s disconnect to blackness — his own and others’ — is palpable.
... recounts half a century of excess in almost every non-essential area of life, which is what makes it such a bitchy and enjoyable read, even if I did need a lie-down afterwards ... Talley initially tried working as a receptionist but it was 'too tragic', as he says with the trademark drama that defines his overwrought writing style ... [Talley] drops famous names like hailstones throughout his memoir ... It’s the insider descriptions of both this rarefied world of fashion and of working in magazine journalism during an era of astonishing expense accounts that make his memoir such an addictive read ... Talley was gradually frozen out from his job at Vogue by Wintour, and it’s impossible to read his exposé of her as anything but a form of public revenge...As a hatchet job it’s pretty spectacular ... Aside from all the gossip, name-dropping and insider information in this memoir, we are reminded that Talley was the only prominent black man in fashion journalism from 1988 to the appointment of Edward Enniful as editor of British Vogue in 2017. That disgraceful and unpalatable fact alone makes his story all the more relevant today, and Talley’s achievements so remarkable.