Making it in the big city

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Safety first. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020.  It was a beautiful summer day in New York yesterday.  Temps reached up to 90 and one weather man said the humidity Real Feel was at 100. Although it didn’t seem so. Very warm but not oppressive. I don’t have my A/C installed, and I don’t feel a need for it. Door open, fan on; perfectly pleasant.

Yesterday was another “opening.” Restaurants were allowed to have tables outside at which they can serve food. And bookstores. I’d been thinking of getting Andre Leon Talley’s memoir “The Chiffon Trenches” because a couple of friends who are big readers bought it and liked it.  I went over to the Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 82nd. They were out of it and waiting for more. It was good to be in a bookstore again!

It was a nice day, and I thought I’d try the bookstore associated with Hunter over on Lexington and 69th Street. I drove down Broadway to cross at the 66th Street transverse. There was a lot of traffic going both ways. But it was quick and I found a parking space a block away. This bookstore has a little café just inside the door. That was roped off; still not open. I was the only customer at the moment. The Andre Leon Talley memoir? Out of it. Re-ordered but they don’t know when they’ll get it. Wow. Good news any way you look at it. Good news for the author.

If you didn’t know, Andre was an editor/journalist at Vogue for many years under Anna Wintour.  Most of the publicity on the book has been about his relationship with her, and under her aegis. One often saw them together at fashion shows. The impression the onlooker could have was that he was Her Man Friday, so to speak.  

His position was distinctly tied to her, at least in public. On sight you might imagine he being her confidant or adviser on important matters. Which made him very important and therefore influential if not powerful in the fashion industry. Evidently sometime in the last couple of years (I haven’t read the book yet) that ended. 

His position (editorial) had been altered. And whatever that may have been, it also demonstrated the end not only of the author’s editorial intimacy with the editor-in-chief, and also their friendship —  if that’s what it might have seemed like. It’s an old story in those “glamour/prestige” fields of endeavor. Hermes Pan had the best explanation from his longtime Hollywood experience: “I loved ya honey, but the show closed.”

Mr. Leon Talley. Owen Hoffmann/ PMC

It is always important to remember that the fashion industry like all industry, is about the money. Born in the 19th century as a garment industry, it is (or became) a billion dollar industry, and Vogue was its “bible” for many years. That is not to denigrate Hearst’s Harper’s Bazaar, which is a beautiful and influential competitor.

It is also true that the entire magazine industry had got very wobbly in the new century with the growth and intrusion of the internet and people’s reading habits.  Everything is present for the reader; no waiting. The magazines, or so it would seem according to the circulations, have lost their mojo, and, in the end it’s all about the money.

This publishing dilemma has brought big changes in the lives of many journalists, and less money. Conde Nast under Si Newhouse (the family owns the company that owns Conde) was very prosperous. It was the Tiffany of the magazine companies. Mr. Newhouse gave it a modern version of the class that the originator, Conde Nast himself, visualized for the magazines at the beginning of the 20th century. But those days are the past. Mr. Newhouse died three and a half years ago and had been impaired for sometime before that with a neurological condition that eventually took his life. In retrospect, that was the beginning of the decline.

The first time I ever saw both Wintour and Talley together was about twenty years ago at the Metropolitan Opera House and a performance of the American Ballet Theatre. We happened to be seated in the same area of the mezzanine (a great location to see the performance). There were only five of us seated in that section. Wintour and Talley were seated on one end in the first row, and another couple Katherine and Shelby Bryan were seated at the other end of the same first row — separated by about eight or ten seats. 

Miss Wintour. Photo: Aurora Rose/PMC

It so happened that I was seated in a lone seat at the top row with an unobstructed view of not only the stage but both couples. It also so happened that at that time there was a well repeated rumor that Ms. Wintour, who was married to the father of her children, and Mr. Bryan, who was married to his wife who was with him at the ballet, were  having an affair.

I’d come to a double bill: the ballet and the marital lives of the two couples seated in my purview. There was no acknowledgement or exchange between them. I had no idea if Katherine Bryan knew what her husband was up to. However, during intermission, Wintour left her seat. Talley followed her but only as far as the corridor. There he waited with one eye on the Bryans (from behind, still seated) and the other on the return of his editor.  When she did return, he escorted her back to her seat. Again, the Bryans did not look in her direction or vice versa. Within a few months, Mr. Bryan was the man in Ms. Wintour’s private life.

I get the impression (from the little I’ve read of Talley’s interviews about his book) that he was disappointed by the way he was treated professionally and socially by Wintour when it was all over. I also get the impression that none of it is surprising to him also.  I never knew the man except to say hello to. I’ve never actually  had the opportunity to even greet Ms. Wintour With the Dark Glasses. In those days he wore his position as a social badge, which indeed it was, and he was not particularly personable to those of not interest. Nevertheless he had a presence, a celebrity.

He is a very big guy — 6’8” or so — and heavy. He has a real presence, and his own style of dress which always very interesting and covers a lot of territory. And it defines his personality. He was a kid from a little town in North Carolina; and when he grew up, he came to the Big Town and he MADE IT. And indeed he did. Big Time. Anna Wintour or no Anna Wintour, that he did. That’s all I know about him (until I read the book), except for one other fact. He had a very good mother and father, and maybe grandmother or aunt like a lot of those Southern boys. That was always his real ace, not Anna Wintour.

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