I first came to know who André Leon Talley was when he appeared on an episode of Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, in which he was helping his friend, Kimora Lee Simmons, search for the perfect gown. At the time, I had little understanding of who he was or what the significance of his place in the world of fashion meant. All I knew is that he was magic to watch on TV. Fat, black, and unapologetically gay, he was twirling circles around Kimora on camera, which is not an easy thing to do. Of course, being fat, black, and unapologetically gay is not an easy thing to do in any industry, much less fashion, but Leon Talley does it oh so well.
Later, I’d come to see him again in The September Issue, and then as a judge on America’s Next Top Model. Each time I saw him, I was captivated by his personality, his reverence for his work, and the unapologetic way he navigated the space he carved out for himself in the world. After decades in the fashion industry, Leon Talley eventually became the creative director of Vogue, but, regardless of what his ease on camera might lead one to believe, his journey was not an easy one. And he’s letting everyone know just how not easy his journey was made by one person in particular: Anna Wintour.
Talking to Women’s Wear Daily, Leon Talley says that his forthcoming book, The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, is not a “vengeful, bitchy tell-all,” and while I’ll take him for his word about his book, I can’t say the same for his chat with WWD, although he starts off kind.
This is not a vengeful book about Vogue and Anna Wintour. There are parts in the book where I say that some of the best years of my life were at Vogue. And the career beginning in 1983, basically I owe it to Anna Wintour.
That is a lovely sentiment, and one that is ostensibly true, should Leon Talley be believed. However, it’s also pretty much the last nice thing he says about the woman who inspired The Devils Wears Prada.
From a humanitarian perspective, she left me with psychological scars. I was often left blowing in the wind without any explanation, which I think perhaps she should have given me.
Certainly, this memoir will do Wintor no favors in rehabilitating her not-so-nice reputation, which many believed to be a farce after watching The September Issue, although, of course, she might have just known better than to psychologically scar people on camera.
And Leon Talley isn’t just coming for Wintour, he’s ready to burn the whole place to the ground. The place, of course, being Condé Nast.
Very often the Condé Nast protocol is brutal — absolutely brutal and cruel. And the fish head rots from the top, OK?
It’s very hypocritical. It has the veneer of being very polite, courteous, well-groomed and polished. When you are in the halls of Vogue, there is a certain standard of politeness, education, kindness, just human correctness. But that doesn’t go to the core of people. People are treated and mishandled terribly at Condé Nast and it starts at the top.
There seems to be a lot of talk about cues coming from the top at Condé, which would, in all likelihood, point back directly to Wintour who has been the artistic director of the whole operation since 2013.
However, once again, Leon Talley reiterates that his book is not all about his fallout with Wintour, unlike this interview which it appears is exclusively about that, as illustrated by these gems:
I wish her well. This book is not there to say, ‘This is how I feel about Anna Wintour — she’s cruel and mean.’ I just feel that Anna Wintour mishandled our relationship and perhaps it was a lack of communication on my part as well as hers.
But I’m not going to be a victim of Anna Wintour. I am not sitting here crying, saying, ‘Woe is me. Anna Wintour has ditched me and pushed me to the curb,’ which I feel she has done. But I’m strong enough to overcome that.
She simply has become insulated in her own power. Perhaps she thinks that people like me who are really loyal friends, or were loyal friends — I can’t say that now we are friends because she doesn’t even speak to me in public — the last time I saw her in public, I said hello to her and she turned her back on me. I guess she was upset.
We’ll have to wait until the memoir is published in September to see just how much this book isn’t about Anna Wintour, but if this interview is any indication, I would imagine she makes more than one passing appearance. If we’re taking bets on what the reason behind their fallout is, my money is on the fact that Wintour just can’t stand that Leon Talley wears Uggs.