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A.L.T.: A Memoir

by André Leon Talley

What influences shape a fashionista? For Vogue editor-at-large Talley (born in 1949), the answer is simple: his grandmother Bennie Davis and empress of style Diana Vreeland. In his heartfelt, occasionally affected remembrance, the Southern-born African-American admits he had little experience with Vreeland's brand of luxury but enjoyed "an innate understanding of it," thanks to his grandmother's meticulous sense of propriety. Indeed, his memoir, an homage to two extraordinary women, is less an autobiography than a eulogy. The women's mutual love of polish is "evidence of a deeper philosophy-the primacy of home and the importance of spending time in its service." Talley is a keen observer, and his book salutes beauty and its practitioners from his grandmother to Karl Lagerfeld. He's at his best, however, when recalling his Durham, N.C., childhood, his devoted father and life in a segregated South. He renders tales of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, family reunions and life during the Civil Rights movement in sumptuous detail. Yet Talley is equally awed by Vreeland, Halston and Mica Ertegun, among his pantheon of fashion royalty, and he considers it a privilege just to sit at their tables. Vreeland, his mentor, enjoys a special place in his heart, and he waxes rhapsodic about her talent as fashion icon and director of the Met's Costume Institute. Between these personal salutes, he details a 30-year hitch in the chiffon trenches, from glam parties and unimagined opulence to the generosity of friends. If Talley has one message, it's "Style transcends race, class, and time." His memoir, though saccharine in spots, is sincere.

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