About Face: After a Years-Long Impasse, André Leon Talley Praises Anna Wintour Amid Accusations of Racism

Anna Wintour and André Leon Talley attend S by Serena Spring 2020 Collection Reveal during NYFW: The Shows on Feb. 12, 2020, in New York City.
Anna Wintour and André Leon Talley attend S by Serena Spring 2020 Collection Reveal during NYFW: The Shows on Feb. 12, 2020, in New York City.
Photo: Bryan Bedder (Getty Images)

Have we entered the season of forgiveness? In his 2020 bestselling memoir, The Chiffon Trenches fashion legend André Leon Talley referred to his former boss, Condé Nast Artistic Director Anna Wintour, as “ruthless” and “not capable” of human kindness.” Following Wintour’s much-publicized apology for “mistakes” made with regard to Vogue’s treatment of Black talent and representation in June, Talley doubled down; when appearing on Sandra Bernhard’s podcast in June, he called Wintour “entitled,” and “a colonial dame” whom he did not think would “ever let anything get in the way of her white privilege.”

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In a damning exposé published by the New York Times last weekend, over a dozen former and current Black staffers also indicted Wintour for creating a culture at Vogue that was not only exclusive but outright exclusionary. “When we’d evaluate a shoot or a look, we’d say ‘That’s Vogue,’ or, ‘That’s not Vogue,’” said one former Black staffer, “and what that really meant was ‘thin, rich and white.’ How do you work in that environment?”

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The statement echoed assertions made by Talley himself, who’d written that Wintour dumped him when he became “too old, too overweight, [and] too uncool.” However, recent social media posts from the former Vogue editor-at-large’s latest statements appear to indicate he feels the indictments of Wintour may have gone too far. As a groundbreaking cover of Lizzo—the first plus-sized Black woman to appear on American Vogue (including Oprah, who reportedly whittled herself down to a size 6 for her 1998 cover shoot; she more recently appeared on the cover of British Vogue in August 2018) debuted in late September, Talley tempered his criticism as he lauded the cover on Instagram, writing in part:

Dame Anna Wintour made a promise and she kept her word. Her public apology was right on. In the years I worked there, under her reign, this cover would have never been published, even if it were a trial. The marketeers would have shut it down. Down. Down. That would be the demographics teams in the advertising side. Lizzo’s cover and full story inside is the new norm. Progress has soared over the top. She once told one of my colleagues early in my career my fashion shoots were”over the top”. Isn’t that what Vogue is meant to be?

Last week, he issued praise again, calling a cover of now 50-year-old supermodel Naomi Campbell:

A glorious visual cantata...Anna Wintour delivers again, with this celebrated cover of Naomi. Both have sung in clarion voices the talents of their better angels. This kind of cover will help heal wounds of intolerance. Anna made icon history by featuring Naomi Campbell on her first solo cover of American Vogue in September 1989 - history is cyclical.

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So too, it seems, is Talley’s respect and praise for the woman who helped foster his own decades-long reign in fashion. “We must live in the world of forgiveness,” he added. “Both women represent the better angels of today who address the importance of giving back to better mankind.”

On Wednesday, Talley was apparently feeling nostalgic, posting a photo of himself and Wintour ar the 1999 Met Gala with the caption:

In the realm of possibility of forgiveness, yours truly, in Tom Ford, custom, by @gucci , and Dame Anna Wintour, in Galliano couture, @dior climbing the stairs to The Met Gala. (Dec. 1999) check that date. Those were the halcyon days when we were at the apex of high fashion world. We were our younger better angels . Anna made history by making me the first African-American male EVER to be named as creative director of Vogue, in 1988. She crashed the glass ceiling.

From there, the possibility of Sir [Edward Enninful], became the first Black male to EVER become editor in chief of Vogue U.K.

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As reported by Page Six, the post “was liked by Enninful and several designers including Marc Jacobs, who added: ‘Possibility is all we have. And luckily that is a lot. Possibility allows for hope.’”

Is there a possibility that Talley and Wintour could be calling a truce? Wintour previously wished Talley “nothing but the best,” following his memoir’s revelations; but should he become a member of the small choir of Black voices whose praise help preserve Wintour’s legacy, that would be a full-circle moment, indeed.

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Andre Leon Talley (L) and Anna Wintour attend the Calvin Klein Fall 2007 on February 8, 2007, in New York City.
Andre Leon Talley (L) and Anna Wintour attend the Calvin Klein Fall 2007 on February 8, 2007, in New York City.
Photo: Brad Barket (Getty Images)

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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DISCUSSION

suffersfoolsgladly
Suffersfoolsgladly

Sounds like he got some repercussions he is trying to mitigate. You can’t have it both ways.

I’m no fan of Wintour, I think she’s creepy as fuck, but pick a lane and stay there, especially if you write a book that is partially successful because of what you have revealed about a notoriously opaque and often unpleasant woman.
This makes Talley seem two -faced, manipulative and ass-kissy.
(Oh, and fuck her for wearing Chinchilla, and fuck him for wearing all those poor skinks or whatever the hell they used to be.)