Vogue started a podcast in 2016 and Anna Wintour announced me as the host. It began with a successful roar and a roster of huge guests: Tom Ford, Kim Kardashian, Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang. Anna quietly directed the whole thing from her office. She did not approve of all the interviews I wanted to do, like Missy Elliott or Maya Rudolph. We instead stuck to insider fashion. Anna came down and participated if she found my guest interesting enough.
Then, like a morning fog that suddenly lets up, the podcast no longer existed. No explanation or compensation. Just sphinx-like silence from Anna. She decimated me with this silent treatment so many times; it is just the way she resolves any issue.
I knew I mattered in our earlier days together. Today, I would love for Anna to say something human and sincere to me. I have huge psychological scars from my relationship with this towering woman, who can sit by the queen of England, on the front row of a fashion show, in her dark glasses and perfect Louise Brooks clipped coiffure, framing her Mona Lisa mystery face. Who is she? She loves her two children and I am sure she will be the best grandmother. But so many people who have worked for her have suffered huge emotional scarring.
In spring of 2018, I realised I hadn’t received any emails from Vogue about my red carpet interviews for the forthcoming Met Gala. For five years, I was assigned to chat to celebrities on livestream video for Vogue; it was something I looked forward to all year. I called and asked what was happening.
“Oh, this is beneath you now,” I was told.
I took the call in my stride, but it was a terrible way to find out. What truly perplexed me was that the previous year, Anna had loved my interviews. She told me they were “great”, which I distinctly remember because she rarely complimented me.
This was clearly a stone-cold business decision. I had suddenly become too old, too overweight and too uncool. After decades of loyalty and friendship, Anna should have had the decency to call or send an email saying, “André, we have had a wonderful run with your interviews, but we are going to try something new.” Simple human kindness. No, she is not capable. I bottled up how hurt I was, as always, but our friendship had just hit a huge iceberg.
My friends told me just to accept it and take my seat at the gala. And I did, in a resplendent bespoke Tom Ford double-faced faille cape and cardinal-like coat with a sash. But for the first time, I didn’t go to Anna’s hotel suite to see her final touches of hair, makeup, shoes and jewels selection. I took my seat like any other guest, at a table with Vera Wang, Zac Posen, John Galliano, Rihanna, Cardi B and Jeremy Scott. A fake smile stretched across my big black lips, my hands clenched in silent disgust. I didn’t want to create a scene, but I couldn’t help but think: This is beneath me, to sit here pretending I am OK with Generalissimo Wintour.
Benny Medina, a major talent agent, interrupted my internal combusting: “Why weren’t you on the steps doing your thing? Jennifer [Lopez] was looking for you; when she didn’t see you, she kept walking.”
“I’m glad to know that,” I said.
Annette de la Renta, a long-time friend, entered, in her black guipure lace-flounced Velázquez evening dress (it was Oscar’s favourite dress he ever made for his wife). On the way to her table, she gave me a warm hug and I felt the love. I realised then that, in all my years of knowing Anna Wintour, we had never shared this feeling.
I felt suddenly, refreshingly, resolute. I stood up. Vera Wang asked where I was going; I told her the men’s room, but instead I swept and swirled down the back corridors of the Met to my waiting car. On the way home, I swore to myself: I will never attend another Anna Wintour Met Gala for the rest of my life.
You might think I see myself as the victim. I do not. When we began our united trajectories at Vogue, Anna treated me with respect and the concern of a friend. I’ve shared the great moments of her rise to becoming the most powerful woman in fashion. What drives Anna is a sense of her own ability to survive as a powerbroker, with sheer brute force, and to sustain an extraordinary level of success. She has held her position as Vogue’s editor longer than anyone in history, 30 years.
I was never officially let go. I remain on the masthead even now, as a contributing editor, though I rarely go to the office. However, I attend every fitting of Anna’s Met Gala dress, right down to the Manolo Blahniks. Anna considers it her duty to be at her best at the Gala. And, despite my wounded ego and insecurity, I have continued to advise her out of loyalty, no matter if she remains silent. But if she asks me to attend her couture fittings after my book is published, I will be surprised.
Anna now treats me as a former employee. Like any ruthless individual, she maintains her sang-froid at all times. I believe she is immune to anyone other than the powerful and famous people who populate the pages of Vogue. She has mercilessly made her best friends the people highest in their fields: Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Mr and Mrs George Clooney. I am no longer of value to her.
My hope is that she will find a way to apologise before I die, or that if I linger on incapacitated before I pass, she will show up at my bedside, with a hand clasped into mine, and say, “I love you. You have no idea how much you have meant to me.”
• The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley is published by HarperCollins on 28 May at £20. To order a copy for £17.40, go to guardianbookshop.com.