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BOOK REVIEW:

The chiffon trenches : a memoir

Fashion journalist André Leon Talley’s autobiography could not be more prescient, and not just for fashion followers. Written before the pandemic and recent protest movements, the four and a half page introduction validates the concerns and issues which are playing out on the streets of the world: 

“For so long I was the only person of color in the upper echelons of fashion journalism,but I was too busy pushing forward, making it to the next day, to really think about the responsibility that came with this role. Memories linger in the mind … Now I realize it is my duty to tell the story of how a black man survived and thrived in the chiffon trenches ... None of my contemporaries have seen the world through black eyes.”

Raised by his grandmother in Durham, North Carolina, he found his calling at an early age, but did not know what to do with it. Armed with family advice to keep moving, and the wisdom of a grandmother who, “ … instilled in me the values of family, love and tradition,” and a strong work ethic, the young man went on to earn a B.A. and  M.A. in French Literature, making him one of the best educated fashion journalists. Sooner than he expected or dreamed, Talley was in the rarified world of haute couture. His expertise and knowledge can be found in books about major fashion designers, such as Valentino and Oscar de la Renta; check under his name. In a recent documentary, 7 Days Out With Karl Lagerfeld, Lagerfeld quipped, “I am working class,” [a little laugh] and, “I am working with class.” The same could be said about Mr. Talley.

In the world of modern fashion, this man has been on the scene for over 40 years, and brings a passionate and appreciative love of that world. A memoir told by way of an in-depth look at fashion, Talley shines a spotlight on some fascinating characters. Eschewing pettiness, but not hesitating to mete out justice and understanding to a few meanies, such John Fairchild, of WWD, aka, Women’s Wear Daily, he brings a fair-minded analysis to what motivated Fairchild. There is a look back at the Parisian cross-town rivalry of two major designers: Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. There are many other people whose paths he crossed, so fasten your seatbelts, clutch your Manolos, for this reflective, analysis of André Leon Talley’s life and the world that he loves.  He is as  compelling on paper, as when lecturing or being interviewed. Check YouTube.

For those who think fashion is frivolous, do remember that billions of dollars are involved because all of us have to wear something. There are the major designers, retail spin-offs and hundreds of supportive jobs. As with other big businesses, there are just as many people who are underhanded, devious, driven by money, ego and a will to power. Likewise, it is a world where being highly qualified does not guarantee acceptance, but may generate jealousy which gives rise to rejection.

For fashionistas, who think they know who’s who and what’s what, perhaps take out a notepad or device. It is between you and this memoir, because I’m not giving a test to see if you know who these people, and quite a few others, are:  Diana Vreeland, Anna Wintour, Isabella Blow, Anna Piaggi, Susie Menkes, Carrie Donavan, Bill Cunningham, Grace Coddington, Mario Testino, Patrick Kinmonth, Arthur Elgort, Lesage, Tonne Goodman, Grace Mirabella, Polly Mellon. LAPL has books about, or by all of them.

Available on e-books and e-audio.


 

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