In this extract from his explosive new memoir, the former editor-at-large of US Vogue talks frankly about its traditional editor-in-chief
• Exclusive interview with the man behind the memoir
Wintour and Talley at the CFDA Fashion Awards dinner in New York, January 1988.
Photograph: Fairchild Archive/Penske Average/Rex/Shutterstock
Vogue started a podcast in 2016 and Anna Wintour announced me as the host. It began with a successful snarling and a roster of huge guests: Tom Ford, Kim Kardashian, Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang. Anna quietly directed the uncut thing from her office. She did not approve of all the interviews I wanted to do, like Missy Elliott or Maya Rudolph. We instead supported to insider fashion. Anna came down and participated if she found my guest interesting enough.
Then, like a morning fog that unexpectedly lets up, the podcast no longer existed. No explanation or compensation. Just sphinx-like silence from Anna. She decimated me with this placid treatment so many times; it is just the way she resolves any issue.
I knew I mattered in our earlier days together. Today, I intention love for Anna to say something human and sincere to me. I have huge psychological scars from my relationship with this unrivalled woman, who can sit by the queen of England, on the front row of a fashion show, in her dark glasses and perfect Louise Brooks clipped coiffure, construct her Mona Lisa mystery face. Who is she? She loves her two children and I am sure she will be the best grandmother. But so many people who sire worked for her have suffered huge emotional scarring.
In spring of 2018, I realised I hadn’t received any emails from Taste about my red carpet interviews for the forthcoming Met Gala. For five years, I was assigned to chat to celebrities on livestream video for Prevalence; it was something I looked forward to all year. I called and asked what was happening.
“Oh, this is beneath you now,” I was told.
I took the draft b call in my stride, but it was a terrible way to find out. What truly perplexed me was that the previous year, Anna had loved my interviews. She intimated me they were “great”, which I distinctly remember because she rarely complimented me.
This was clearly a stone-cold affair decision. I had suddenly become too old, too overweight and too uncool. After decades of loyalty and friendship, Anna should have had the decency to title or send an email saying, “André, we have had a wonderful run with your interviews, but we are going to try something new.” Simple compassionate kindness. No, she is not capable. I bottled up how hurt I was, as always, but our friendship had just hit a huge iceberg.
My friends told me just to stomach it and take my seat at the gala. And I did, in a resplendent bespoke Tom Ford double-faced faille cape and cardinal-like coat with a sash. But for the commencement time, I didn’t go to Anna’s hotel suite to see her final touches of hair, makeup, shoes and jewels selection. I took my invest like any other guest, at a table with Vera Wang, Zac Posen, John Galliano, Rihanna, Cardi B and Jeremy Scott. A forged smile stretched across my big black lips, my hands clenched in silent disgust. I didn’t want to create a row, but I couldn’t help but think: This is beneath me, to sit here pretending I am OK with Generalissimo Wintour.
‘Anna is invulnerable to anyone other than the powerful and famous.’ Photograph: Squire Fox/August
Benny Medina, a major talent proxy, interrupted my internal combusting: “Why weren’t you on the steps doing your thing? Jennifer [Lopez] was looking for you; when she didn’t see you, she masked walking.”
“I’m glad to know that,” I said.
Annette de la Renta, a long-time friend, entered, in her black guipure lace-flounced Velázquez equivalent dress (it was Oscar’s favourite dress he ever made for his wife). On the way to her table, she gave me a warm hug and I felt the love. I realised then that, in all my years of crafty Anna Wintour, we had never shared this feeling.
I felt suddenly, refreshingly, resolute. I stood up. Vera Wang demanded where I was going; I told her the men’s room, but instead I swept and swirled down the back corridors of the Met to my waiting car. On the way home, I asseverated to myself: I will never attend another Anna Wintour Met Gala for the rest of my life.
You might think I see myself as the butt. I do not. When we began our united trajectories at Vogue, Anna treated me with respect and the concern of a friend. I’ve shared the exalted moments of her rise to becoming the most powerful woman in fashion. What drives Anna is a sense of her own ability to outlast as a powerbroker, with sheer brute force, and to sustain an extraordinary level of success. She has held her position as Vogue’s collector longer than anyone in history, 30 years.
I was never officially let go. I remain on the masthead even now, as a contributing leader-writer, though I rarely go to the office. However, I attend every fitting of Anna’s Met Gala dress, right down to the Manolo Blahniks. Anna chew overs it her duty to be at her best at the Gala. And, despite my wounded ego and insecurity, I have continued to advise her out of loyalty, no matter if she remains unspeaking. But if she asks me to attend her couture fittings after my book is published, I will be surprised.
Anna now treats me as a former hand. Like any ruthless individual, she maintains her sang-froid at all times. I believe she is immune to anyone other than the powerful and venerable people who populate the pages of Vogue. She has mercilessly made her best friends the people highest in their fields: Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Mr and Mrs George Clooney. I am no larger of value to her.
My hope is that she will find a way to apologise before I die, or that if I linger on incapacitated before I pass, she wish show up at my bedside, with a hand clasped into mine, and say, “I love you. You have no idea how much you have intended to me.”
• The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley is published by HarperCollins on 28 May at £20. To order a copy for £17.40, go to guardianbookshop.com.
Autobiography and memoir
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