One of the most formidable forces in fashion is also known for his forthcoming commentary—legendary editor André Leon Talley rarely minces words, whether giving incisive commentary on a runway look, or writing a bestselling (and bombshell) memoir, 2020's The Chiffon Trenches. The latter is making its debut in paperback this week, which should be a cause for celebration—as should Talley’s coy boast to longtime friend Tamron Hall on Monday that Leslie Odom, Jr. may be preliminarily “interested” in playing the icon onscreen. (We’d envisioned someone more Winston Duke in stature or Colman Domingo in style—but dealer’s choice, I guess).
Another great achievement? The recent announcement that Talley is receiving the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest honor in the arts, which has been awarded to past recipients including James Baldwin and Tina Turner.
“It’s a celebration already. It’s a great honor and a great achievement. You couldn’t ask for anything higher,” Talley told Women’s Wear Daily in April. “There are different levels, but just to be named a chevalier is amazing, especially for an African American Black man from the South. This is a great achievement for my race. I came from very modest, humble beginnings.”
However, the information its author next shared with Hall on her eponymous talk show was anything but celebratory. As previously reported by The Root, Talley has been embroiled in a legal battle over his Westchester, N.Y. manse, which was initially purchased by former friend and Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus and husband, Anthony Yurgaitis in what Talley believed to be a rent-to-own agreement. Sixteen years later, the couple claims Talley owes them over a half million dollars in rent on the home originally purchased for just over one million dollars, and wants to evict him. Talley has countered with receipts that seem to indicate he’s paid over $900,000 to date, as well as making capital improvements to the historic colonial.
Though the ongoing legal dispute precluded Talley from speaking about the issue in detail, he told longtime friend Hall he’d been in prayer about the outcome, adding, “as James Baldwin once said, everything in one’s life depends on how that life accepts its limits. I will not be limited. I only can hope for the best outcome that this place that I call my sanctuary will be my sanctuary.”
Memorably, supporters of the fashion icon at one point launched a GoFundMe to keep him in his beloved home; a gesture Talley deemed unnecessary. However, as Hall pointed out, the controversy magnified the disparity between the public image of the eternally couture-clad former Vogue editor-at-large and the harsh realities of financial insecurity the septuagenarian may now be experiencing. In response, Talley dropped an all-too-familiar reality of his own, claiming to have recently learned of a severe pay inequity between what (presumably white) female top editors at Vogue were purportedly paid during his tenure versus his own “almost $300,000" salary.
“I just found out two weeks ago from someone of authority that women at Vogue—high, high-rate fashion editors made close to million dollars. I never made that much in a year,” he said. “I made almost $300,000. But people on the same level, maybe they were doing more work in the fashion photo shoots, but they were making $900,000 a year. They don’t make that anymore; but this is this is what comes when you live in America. When you’re a Black person, you have to wake up and you go, ‘that’s a double standard,’” he added.
While plenty of us would love to make close to $300K a year, that’s not really the point. Much like Janet Mock revealed last week during a highly publicized rant during the Pose premiere party, the cruel phenomenon of race and gender pay disparities (or both) continues to persist no matter the income bracket, Talley being no exception. It would seem to indicate yet another profound betrayal during his decades-long yet “passive-aggressive friendship” with Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast Artistic Director Anna Wintour. Nevertheless, on what would’ve typically been Met Gala Day, Talley did note he would happily accept an invite to this year’s postponed festivities, should Wintour extend one.