There was a time when Andre Leon Talley’s friendship with Dame Anna Wintour was regarded as a match made in fashion heaven. She was the formidable British editor-in-chief of Vogue whose presence in the front row at catwalk shows left designers quaking in their well-heeled boots.
He was the flamboyantly dressed gay black fashion commentator, journalist and stylist who acted as her confidant and was never far from her side. For nearly three decades they cut an elegant swathe through the world of haute couture.
When mother-of-two Wintour married for the second time in 2004, Talley was among just a dozen guests invited to attend the intimate event. Alas, nothing lasts forever when it comes to the mercurial world of fashion.
As MailOnline exclusively revealed this week, a devastating memoir, penned by Talley and due to be published later this year, makes clear that the formerly close friendship between the pair, who will both turn 71 this year, has well and truly come apart at the seams.
Journalists Andre Leon Talley and Anna Wintour arriving at Balenciaga show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2014
Ripping into his former boss, Talley writes that ‘she is not capable of simple kindness’ and that ‘she is immune to anyone other than the powerful and famous people who populate the pages of Vogue.’
As if that wasn’t cutting enough, Talley adds that Wintour is ‘ruthless’ and adds that ‘she has mercilessly made her best friends people who are the highest in their chosen fields.’
Most shocking of all is his claim that she ditched him as a friend because he was ‘too old, too overweight, too uncool’ for her. Other big names have also been dragged into this excoriating affray.
Taxi driver’s son Talley, who styled Melania Trump for her wedding to Donald, claims to have spoken about Wintour to Graydon Carter, the legendary former editor of Vanity Fair, and says that he, too, complained of similar treatment, saying: ‘One day she treats me like a good friend and a colleague, and the next day, she treats me as if she had just handed over her keys to an unknown parking valet.’
There are anecdotes, too, about Karl Lagerfeld’s dramatic weight loss — apparently he was tied to his bed to stop him eating — and another war of words between Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent.
Given such promisingly venomous tidbits, it’s no surprise that The Chiffon Trenches — a reference to the rarefied world of high fashion to which he devoted his life for more than four decades — is already being talked about in publishing circles as a no-holds-barred account of one of the biggest bust-ups in fashion history.
For while Wintour is so far maintaining a dignified silence — a Condé Nast source told yesterday’s New York Post that she would be ‘extremely hurt’ by the book — Talley’s associates, meanwhile, are rallying to his defence.
Fashion designer Betsey Johnson, who recently released her own memoir, told the Mail yesterday: ‘I think it’s great that Andre has called Anna out. Except for The Devil Wears Prada, nobody’s had the balls to say how she really is because everyone’s scared of Anna’s power.
Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Tilley attend the 7th on Sixth Fashion show October 30, 1996 in New York City
‘She can make or break someone and I think that’s why people worked for her longer than they should have, because there was no other place to go and they had to put up with it. I feel sorry for poor Andre, who always had a smile and such flair. He’s very brave — I applaud him.’
One of Talley’s long-time friends, Janis Mayes, a professor in African Literature at Syracuse University in New York, also told the Mail this week that she had read the book and agreed that Wintour’s treatment of her friend was ‘unconscionable’.
‘I think Andre’s reaction is the human response to the betrayal of a friendship and the lack of recognition of the work he did at Vogue,’ she said. ‘Theirs was a collaborative relationship, but Andre cared about Anna beyond the work and so there was surprise and hurt.’
Andre Leon Talley (L) and Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Anna Wintour backstage at the Carolina Herrera fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015
But what on earth could have happened to cause him to pick up his pen in such anger? And, more pertinently, why now? For Talley’s claims that he has ‘huge emotional and psychological scars from my relationship with this towering and influential woman’ doesn’t sit well with the days when he virtually worshipped the ground Wintour walked on in her custom-made beige Manolo Blahniks.
Just two years ago, in an interview to publicise a documentary about his life, he was still praising her: ‘She’s loyal, a loyal friend. One sees the glacial sunglasses and impeccable dresses. But she cares.’
The story of their friendship — and its descent into enmity — goes back to 1983 when, on his second attempt at getting a job at Vogue, Talley was made fashion news editor by then editor, Grace Mirabella.
On the way out of the office, he recalls in his memoir, he bumped into Wintour, who was then working as Vogue’s creative director. By the time he got home, she had sent a note to his apartment saying: ‘Welcome to Vogue. I look forward to working with you.’
Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley during 16th Annual CFDA Awards Gala at New York State Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City, New York, United States
It was a significant moment, not least because he had always been ‘terrified’ of Wintour when they crossed paths at fashion events. In 1985, she was appointed editor of British Vogue and moved to London where she earned herself the nickname ‘Nuclear Wintour’ because of her chilly, demanding demeanour.
But when she arrived back in the U.S. in 1987 to take the helm at Home & Garden magazine, she hired Talley — then working as style editor at Vanity Fair.
A year later, when she took the editor’s chair at Vogue, she took Talley with her, giving him her old job as creative director and making him, at the time, the highest ranking black man in the history of fashion journalism.
Indeed, when Talley congratulated Edward Enninful on his appointment as the first male and black editor-inchief of British Vogue in its 101- year-history, Enninful emailed him to say that ‘you paved the way’.
Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley attend a fashion show together
It was an extraordinary achievement for the grandson of a sharecropper who grew up in racially segregated North Carolina, raised from the age of three months by his grandmother — a cleaner at Duke University.
He credits her, and the days he spent in church among women in beautiful hats and gloves, with sparking his interest in fashion. He became a devoted reader of Vogue after finding a copy of the magazine in his local library.
A school teacher also inspired in him a love of French which saw him winning a scholarship to study for a masters in French Literature at Brown University, where he wrote his post-graduate thesis on Baudelaire and Flaubert.
Talley began his career in 1974 working for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, quickly graduating from answering the telephone for $50 a week to reporting from the Paris catwalks in the late 1970s.
Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley Stella McCartney show show for Spring / Summer 2007, Paris Fashion Week
After stints on Women’s Wear Daily, W Magazine and The New York Times, he arrived at Vogue where he met Wintour properly for the first time. Despite their hugely different backgrounds — she is the privately educated daughter of Evening Standard editor Charles Wintour — the pair were almost inseparable and regarded as fashion royalty.
Talley oversaw photoshoots in the homes of the rich and the famous — he worked on Madonna’s first Vogue cover at her home in Los Angeles in 1989. His 6ft 6in frame, swathed in colourful lavish kaftans which became his trademark, made him instantly recognisable on the front row of fashion shows in London, Paris, Milan and New York.
Talley was soon being feted as one of the most respected and revered men in fashion history. Talley’s memoir also gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into Wintour’s high-octane reign at Vogue, recalling that her assistants used to go to her home every morning with a copy of ‘the big book’, a mock-up of the current issue of Vogue, as well as flowers, gifts and all her clean clothes.
Andre Leon Talley and Anna Wintour attend the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund party at the Gramercy Park Hotel
These details were parodied in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, starring Meryl Streep, and based on the Lauren Weisberger novel, of the same name. It is widely believed Anna Wintour is the inspiration for the monstrous fashion editor Miranda Priestly.
Wintour’s kitchen was spotless because she never cooked. At the office, meetings were over in eight minutes and, if they went on longer than 15, ‘something was seriously wrong’.
The first time they had lunch together, he claims that she announced ‘let’s go back to the office’ before the first course had arrived. There were expense accounts for everything and all of Wintour’s clothes — except her underwear — were sent to the dry cleaners.
(L-R) Andre Leon Talley, Melania Trump and Donald Trump attend Talley’s ‘A.L.T. 365+’ book party at La Grenouille. A.L.T. 365 Party, New York
But it seems that friendships forged in the fickle world of fashion are fragile indeed. Talley claims that something changed and that Wintour stopped sending him on the best assignments.
Feeling that he ‘wasn’t being treated properly’ he stormed into her office and quit in 1995, slamming the door on the way out. He moved back home to North Carolina into the house he’d bought for his beloved grandmother, who had died five years earlier.
Alone and unhappy, he began binge eating and piling on weight. He made up with Wintour when her mother died later that year (1995), flying to the UK to be at her side for the funeral.
Designer Karl Lagerfeld (left) and Vogue Magazine’s Andre Leon Talley at the 2002 CFDA Fashion Awards at the New York Public Library in New York City, New York on June 3, 2002
He describes how she broke down in tears during the eulogy and how he got up and ‘cradled her in my arms’ as they walked out. Their reunion saw him return to Vogue as editor-at-large in 1998 but Wintour, he says, was concerned about his ballooning weight.
He hired a personal trainer and tried to diet by eating cooked cabbage but, when that didn’t work, he says Anna took drastic action. He recalls being summoned to the boardroom at Vogue in 2005, where the pastor from his church was waiting, as well as the late designer Oscar de la Renta and his wife.
Talley says he was outraged when Wintour told him that his weight was ‘out of control’ and offered him a place at Duke University Diet and Fitness Center in his home town of Durham, North Carolina, which he accepted.
He lost and regained 55lb and returned to the centre three times for a ‘yo-yo battle I long ago realised I will never win’. In 2016, Vogue began producing a fashion podcast with Talley as the host interviewing the likes of Tom Ford, Kim Kardashian and Marc Jacobs.
Melania Trump (L) and Andre Leon Talley attend Martha Graham Dance Company’s 2005 season opening gala at Tavern on the Green
He complains in his book of being paid ‘peanuts’ for his work — only $500 per episode, and says that the podcast was stopped, without explanation. Wintour, he says, adopted a ‘sphinx-like silence’, adding that she had ‘decimated me with this silent treatment so many times’ and ‘this is just the way she resolves any issue’.
In spring 2018, Talley was expecting to reprise his role as Vogue’s red carpet interviewer for the Met Gala but, when he contacted the magazine, he says he was told that such things were ‘beneath’ him.
He was replaced by a young, female YouTube star. ‘This was clearly a stone-cold business decision,’ he writes. ‘I had suddenly become too old, too overweight, too uncool, I imagine, for Anna Wintour.’
That October — just six months after he’d been praising her loyalty in interviews to promote the documentary about his life ‘The Gospel According to Andre’, the writing was clearly on the wall when Wintour failed to send him her usual birthday greetings.
Andre Leon Talley and Naomi Campbell attend Marc Jacobs Autumn 2006 Show
When, the following month, he sent her a happy birthday email, he received no response and considered their friendship to be ‘officially over’. ‘After decades of loyalty and friendships…
Anna should have had the decency and kindness to call me or send me an email saying: ‘Andre, we have had a wonderful run with your interviews but we are going to try something new.’ ‘I would have accepted that…
I understand; nothing lasts forever. Simply human kindness. No she is not capable. ‘Anna is so powerful and busy; she simply put me out of her existence. Now she treats me as a former employee, brief greetings, never anything more than perfunctory salutations.’
His friend, Professor Janis Mayes, is in no doubt that Talley is deeply hurt by the way their friendship ended. ‘Andre took the high road and put everything aside to attend Anna’s mother’s funeral in the UK, to be with her at one of the lowest moments in her life, and then she behaved in that manner — it’s unconscionable. I know he was hurt.’
Vogue Editor Anna Wintour (r) and Vogue Editor-at-large Leon Andre Talley are seen before the Diane Von Furstenberg Fashion Show at the Spring 2009 Mercedes-benz Fashion Week
Interestingly, Talley views his treatment as part of a wider freezing out of the old guard at Vogue. Industry insiders say that the days of big magazine budgets and bottomless expense accounts are long gone — except, it seems, for Wintour herself, who is said to earn around $2million a year.
‘We are the dinosaurs of Vogue, an endangered species,’ write Talley. ‘This is ageism at its worst.’ He adds that the Vogue’s publisher, Conde Nast is ‘special in its ability to spit people out …without ceremony, like in the court of the Sun King…it’s not a place of great empathy for humanity.’
But it’s a sorry end indeed to one of fashion’s most legendary partnerships and one which has clearly left Talley hugely resentful. ‘I wonder, when she goes home alone at night, is she miserable? Does she feel alone?’ he writes.
With a devastating flourish of his pen, he adds: ‘My hope is that she will find a way to apologise before I die, or if I linger on incapacitated before I pass, she will show up at my bedside, with an extended hand clasped into mine and say: ‘I love you. You have no idea how much you have meant to me.’
Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley at the 20th Annual American Fashion Awards at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center in New York City 2001
‘Not a day goes by when I do not think of Anna Wintour.’
Such extraordinary words suggest that more than anything, Talley still hankers after Wintour’s approval and longs to be reinstated as her friend.
Indeed, given the first tantalising glimpse of this savage memoir, it is clear that the man who made his name as one of fashion’s great future trend-spotters is not going to let go of the past any time soon.