The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir
Written by: André Leon Talley
Reviewed by: Colin Morris
There’s a very telling episode late in this book when this 6’6 gay, black, French-speaking American is sent by his employer, Vogue magazine, to a health spa to lose weight. He never mentions a clinician or masseuse or any other staff. To him, they are just little people. The snobbishness continues when Talley reveals it was Jackie Kennedy’s dress sense and decorum at the funeral of President Kennedy that made him realise the fashion industry is made for him.
It soon becomes evident that Talley is a snob of the worst kind. A quill dipped in poison ink drips on every page with the name dropping of fashion designers and models. Yet, it is his repudiation of those who accuse him of sleeping with everybody from Steve McQueen to Karl Lagerfeld that hurts the most. Talley takes pride in being gay, and the women around him love him for that, feeling safe from sexual predators.
After failing to lose weight, he takes to wearing caftans. Talley even finds time to give us the name of his caftan maker in a souk in Morocco. Yes, the name dropping continues.
Never a greasy spoon diner for Talley, it’s always Maxim’s or Chez Georges in Paris. With a sycophantic woman on his arm, they drool over food and fashion.
I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s books, Tales of the City, throughout. Characters were always described as wearing Ralph Lauren shirts, Gucci loafers, or Gap jackets. Here, every dress is named and described. Fashionistas will be delighted with the in-crowd names: Loulou de la Falaise, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, and we are privy to Naomi Campbell carrying 10 mobile phones while Lee Radziwill washes her hair in egg yolks!
Talley’s vitriol is reserved for Anna Wintour, scion of Vogue for the last 30 years. Accordingly, Wintour is portrayed as cold, lacking empathy, and dismissive, but also brilliant.
By turn this book is catty, funny, tart, backstabbing, gushing, gossipy, cruel, bitter, self-pontificating, and immensely readable.