Andre Leon Talley Memoir Attacked In NYT Review For Playing Down Blackness

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
André Leon Talley missed the mark when it comes to remaining unapologetically Black and proud, according a New York Times review of his book. In this photo, Talley arrives at St. Bartholomew’s Church for a memorial service for fashion designer L’Wren Scott, Friday, May 2, 2014, in New York. Scott committed suicide on March 17 in her Manhattan apartment. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley might have conquered in the world of couture, but he missed the mark when it comes to remaining unapologetically Black and proud, according a New York Times (NYT) review of his memoir “The Chiffon Trenches.”

In the book, Talley wrote of his apprenticeship with former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland: “She must have loved the idea of my presence, the combination of my looks, tall and honey colored; my impeccable manners and grooming; and my blossoming unorthodox style. Plus my master’s degree!”

For the reviewer, this was problematic. A self-described “cultural critic,” Rebecca Carroll is known for her work exploring racial topics – particularly about Black people. She didn’t hold back when she slammed what she deemed Talley’s whitewashing of his life.

“Talley is not exactly honey-colored, but choosing a euphemistic description for the color of black skin has long been a way to make blackness less black to white people,” Carroll wrote. “Still, it’s the bit about his master’s degree that’s most soul-crushing — the Studio 54 version of W. E. B. Du Bois’s black double consciousness: Let me in! I’m not black, I’m honey-colored! And I’m articulate and clean and educated!”

According to Carroll, as Talley climbed the ranks at Vogue and in the fashion world, he toned down his Blackness to make white people comfortable. It is an approach she called “a dichotomous volley between self-erasure and performative pride.”

She cited the following passage from his book to underscore her point:

“I had arrived in a place where I was accepted and where I now belonged,” Talley wrote. “My Blackness was not important. What was important was that I was smart.” And then, a few paragraphs later: “I was always seated on the front row at the couture and ready-to-wear catwalk shows, the only Black man among a sea of white titans of style.”

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She further challenges Talley on seeming to teeter between down-playing his blackness and highlighting it when convenient. “Can his Blackness simultaneously be unimportant, and also allow him to stand out among white titans?” Carroll asks regarding some of Talley’s statements.

After providing more examples of how Talley so egregiously “belittled himself in about 50 different ways,” despite his statement to the contrary, Carroll summed up her sentiment.

In the last full paragraph of her review, Carroll wrote: “‘The Chiffon Trenches’ is less about the fashion elite than it is about a Black boy from the rural South who got swallowed whole by the white gaze and was spit out as a too-large black man when he no longer fit the narrative. But the white gaze has done its work, and Talley’s disconnect to Blackness — his own and others’ — is palpable.”