André Leon Talley Made Fashion History — But That’s Not Enough
The icon paved the way for generations, even if he wasn’t as hands-on as some of us wished
“It’s tough being a big Black man in the world,” André Leon Talley told me in 2017. It was the day after a documentary about the fashion icon, The Gospel According to André, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and he was referencing the racism he’d experienced in the fashion industry. “But you can get through it,” he continued, tilting his head high, as if to say he’d been to the Promised Land.
That memory comes rushing back to me now as I speak to Talley about today’s release of The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, his second (and much anticipated) literary autobiography. The title, after all, is how he has long characterized his struggle in the overwhelmingly White fashion industry. “We are in a culture where White supremacy reigns,” the former creative director and editor at large for American Vogue tells me over the phone from his home in White Plains, New York. “I survived based on my work ethic, my style, my roots, and all the experiences that made me who I became and who I am still becoming.”
For all his power and prominence, he did not lift as he climbed, leaving other Black folks in fashion and media to fend for themselves. André Leon Talley navigated the chiffon trenches alone.
Along the way, Talley says, Blackness was ever present. “I always go back to the roots of my grandmother, the Black church, the Black family tradition, Black reunions, Black dinners,” he continues. “I lean on my Blackness. It gives me strength to know that we as a people are strong.”
Such a declaration of identity is notable considering his long aversion to explicitly discuss race. In The Gospel According to André, even when he recounts treatment like being called “Queen Kong” by a White publicist behind his back, there’s a reticence in his posture, his speech. That hesitation has since melted away. The…