I was a very casual fan of the iconic fashion editor Andre Leon Talley. I remember seeing him on television shows in the 90s and early 2000s and being struck by his grandiosity. I also noticed him because even then I had a laser eye for #ownnormal fam living their biggest and best lives in worlds that liked to pretend they didn’t exist. I was sad to hear of his passing, and even sadder to find out that despite all the media memorials, the man essentially died penniless and alone despite his iconic status. Talley had a presence, and when he left I wished I had known more about him.
This may seem like an odd choice for a Valentine’s Day post during a month where I’m trying to encourage everyone to #readBlacklove. But what is this, if not a love letter to an industry? It’s a glitzy, name-dropping memoir of Talley’s rise from unpaid intern fresh from rural North Carolina to the first Black creative director at Vogue. He goes into gleeful, materialistic detail about the time he spent with fashion elites such as Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, and Manolo Blahnik. He’s also very candid about his sexuality and binge eating struggles. He doesn’t forget where he comes from, but his memories don’t linger there. Instead, they’re wrapped around encyclopedic recollections of who was wearing what and how it mattered in the backstage drama.
Talley’s memories definitely show status and privilege, but they also make it clear that he loved haute couture with every fiber of his being and never quite stopped being amazed that he was part of it. Perhaps the only thing he loved more, if you believe this book, were the people who created fashion. It’s like a who’s who of loving little anecdotes about the fashion community, made all the more poignant by Talley’s transparency about his difficulty with close relationships.
That makes it an even bigger shame that hindsight and Talley’s own rueful awareness shed doubt on how much he was loved back. As a reader, I learned from his love and loneliness equally.
4 stars and a pair of custom made Manolo Blahniks to The Chiffon Trenches
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