A name dropper who was dropped, André Leon Talley’s latest memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, charts his life and career through the glittering war zone of fashion’s front row and his time at American Vogue. From his childhood in the southern states of America, raised by his grandmother, to New York, bouncing between there and Paris, depending on his roles at various magazines, it’s a who’s who (or who he knows) of fashion and society in one of the most exciting periods of 20th century fashion. Think the great 1970s period of Yves Saint Laurent.
Left - André Leon Talley - The Chiffon Trenches published by HarperCollins - £20
While I’ve never read Talley’s journalistic work, being pictured on the arm or by the side of American Vogue editor Anna Winter saw him enter fashion folklore. With his voluminous kaftans and capes he became a memorable fashion caricature alongside Wintour’s bob and dark sunglasses.
As a journalist, this is lite and while he thinks he’s describing things, throwing in a few French terms just feels a bit dated and doesn’t impress. Well, not this side of the pond anyway. It’s fluff.
The beef between YSL and Karl Lagerfeld is legendary and it’s interesting to hear about his dealings with John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, but apart from that there’s no great insight other than continually reminding you how he knows his fashion history and what a great dresser Lee Radziwill (Jackie O’s sister) was.
Clearly used to the golden years of magazines, when you could expense everything, had a car at your disposal and got put up in the Ritz, he glosses over his failings, like losing his job at Ebony, they couldn’t afford him, or so he says, and then messing up a huge opportunity writing YSL’s book because he took much on and didn’t have the time. Doesn’t look good, or sound professional.
Wintour and Lagerfeld dropped him a few years back, so the reason behind writing this book was probably the death of the latter. He knew that his friendship with Lagerfeld was the reason Wintour held him so close.
This, along with his documentary, The Gospel According To André, has a feeling of still trying to stay relevant and visible. But, what does he do exactly? He seems to mostly accompany rich women when they go shopping. He loves ‘a strictly private invitation funeral mass’ and has to drop in how he’s always frow or got a select invite to something or another.
He hates it when others don’t like his chosen gifts. It’s a lot of giving and receiving special stuff. All about the alligator. It has to be the best, most expensive and this attitude feels again dated. He moans about people treating him badly yet carries on doing things for them or going to their launches and dinners. He wants to feel important. Has to.
He compares Naomi Campbell to Elizabeth Taylor. Really? #eyeroll And addresses Edward Enninful as a Sir, which he’s not. He has an OBE, and, for a man who think he knows everything, this feels like a stupid thing not to know. I'm surprised the publisher didn't pick this up.
Sycophantic, he’s like one of those people who hears something new then acts like they invented it. It’s all Goyard luggage and blacked out cars. He’s sucked in by breeding and heritage and he's spoilt by a free and expensed lifestyle. Those days are over.
The book is quite repetitive; Met Gala, Anna Wintour Costume Center, Diana Vreeland, Lagerfeld, Chanel, Chanel, Chanel…
There’s a best dressed list at the end of the book and even a ‘picture section’.
Takeaway - He’s a self-professed ’elegant walker’ and, while bitter about his detachment from Wintour, Talley has kept all the receipts, literally, and they are all here to read. Burn.
When I saw an article advertising a new fashion documentary on André Leon Talley I knew we’d reached 'peak fashion documentary' territory. The larger-than-life (in-life?) American Vogue editor-at-large has a film called “The Gospel According To André” coming out in May.
Left - The new Alexander McQueen documentary by Embankment Films Read TheChicGeek Review - here
It charts his humble beginnings growing up in North Carolina to being one of America’s most well known fashion characters.
He just adds to the many designers, brands and egos who have released documentaries over the last few years. We all know how the treatment goes: a new designer diarising their first ‘crucial’ collection, a celebration of an eccentric fashion ‘icon’ or a big opening or event and the drama surrounding it. It’s all played out in the 90 minutes or so of devoted film. Done.
It’s all very watchable content, even for those who wouldn’t know their Simone Rocha from their Ferrero Rocher. Most recently we’ve had Westwood, Blahnik and Noten get the fash-doc once over, and with a new McQueen one on it’s way, the output shows no signs of slowing down.
"Fashion has become something of an entertainment industry, and the fashion doco' is an effective way of educating an audience keen on learning about the fashion industry's players, its big brands and the myths that surround them. Expect a lot more,” says Jamie Huckbody, European Editor for Harper's BAZAAR Australia.
Netflix and the like needs content and fashion is a truly visual medium with many can’t-make-them-up type characters perfectly cast in their Devil Wears Prada roles.
I wanted to write something about the rise of the fash-doc and its growth for while, but it was a visit to the London Book Fair that got me thinking about the reason why we’ve hit peak fashion documentary.
It’s basically replaced the fashion book for the younger generation.
There are definitely less fashion monographs being produced on brands and designers ATM. Large, definitive books just don’t seem as cool anymore, and feel almost dead in comparison to the documentary.
There’s also been a generational shift. Under the elegant expanse of Olympia, I looked at all these books and I thought, who is buying them? It’s the older, wealthier generations. The ones who have the luxury of time, money and space.
Right - The Gospel According To André, coming out in May
‘Generation Rent’ - younger people - aren’t buying these books anymore. Even if they could afford them, they’ve got nowhere to store them and they certainly don’t want the additional baggage of cart shelves of expensive books around every time they move. They often don’t even have enough room for the coffee table, let alone the door stopper books to go on it.
Why buy a weighty and expensive Taschen or Assouline when you can watch the documentary? You’re only going to look at the book once, anyway, most probably. You can stream a video anytime you like, plus we are all so used to consuming content in this way.
Huckbody disagrees, saying “"Over the past three years, I've been working very closely with the millennial generation as a university lecturer, and there is still a huge appetite for books; especially books that offer an insight into 'other worlds'. This might be anything from the black and white photography of Karlheinz Weinberger to the books that are published alongside fashion exhibitions such as the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty book. For a lot of 'Generation Rent', the book offers a different experience to a picture glanced momentarily on social media."
I agree that social media is a very quick, disposable and, sometimes, unsatisfactory medium for fashion history and I’m not going to go to the extreme and pronounce the book dead, (just yet!), I’m just saying the fashion documentary has proven massively popular and it’s a modern case of you've bought the designer T-shirt now watch the documentary on it.
Traditional forms of consuming information are changing and adapting and the fashion book was always ripe to be replaced by film. Film can illustrate movement, show catwalks, people and really gives consumers a feel for what they are seeing. Add the music of the time, interviews and you get a 360 view, albeit one the brand or designer wants you to see, but then, hey, books can be just as commissioned or narcissistic.
Not all films meet with the subject’s approval. We recently saw Westwood fall out with the makers of her documentary and encourage people not to see it. It had the opposite effect, gave it more exposure and we all know that it’s good for her anarchic image.
Some of these documentaries won’t do its subjects justice, others will surprise you with how interesting they actually are.
What is great is, by replacing the book, fashion has got a much larger audience. It would have been a select, passionate few buying these books originally, but now everybody has access to give the documentary the first 10 mins and see if it piques their interest enough to watch it until the end.
What do you think? Tell me on social media @thechicgeekcouk
Talking of fashion documentaries, TheChicGeek just reviewed Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco
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