REMEMBERING ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY
One of fashion’s most legendary figures, André Leon Talley, has passed away, aged 73. The former editor-at-large at US Vogue died on Tuesday in New York from an unknown illness, confirmed by his literary agent, David Vigliano.
A true trailblazer, Talley towered high as one of fashion’s most loveable figures. Larger-than-life, he was 6 feet 6 inches tall, and one of the first Black editors to break into a white, elitist industry.
Born in Washington DC in 1948, Talley was raised by his grandmother in Durham, North Carolina, who was a member of the Black church. Growing up, Talley was obsessed with French culture, going on to receive a masters from Brown University in French Literature, where he would pour over copies of Vogue in the university’s library.
Making the move to New York in 1974 to pursue a career in fashion, Talley’s first gig was volunteering to help then Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. At an Oxford University address in 2013, Talley recalled how Vreeland chose one of the first looks he had ever styled to appear in the Met’s annual exhibition.
From there, Talley would go on to work at Interview magazine under Andy Warhol, where he first met Karl Lagerfeld. The pair would grow to become close friends, with Talley moving to Paris in the late 1970s for a job at Women’s Wear Daily.
His childhood dreams of working for Vogue came true in 1983, first appointed as the title’s news director, before becoming Vogue’s first Black creative director under Anna Wintour in 1988. Talley would keep the role until 1995, leaving briefly to work at W magazine, before returning to Vogue in 1998, where he was given the title of editor-at-large. He would stay at the publication until 2013.
Talley was revered for his flamboyant fashions, particularly the striking suits he would wear on the front row. In later years, he would become synonymous for his lavish capes and caftans, designed by everyone from Tom Ford through to Dapper Dan.
On a global scale, many would become familiar with Talley through his scene-grabbing appearances in the 2009 documentary The September Issue, which followed Wintour and her team as they pieced together the September 2007 edition of the magazine, a record-smashing 840-page doorstopper of an issue. From playing tennis decked in diamonds and Louis Vuitton, to gifting the documentary its most memorable lines, the film cemented Talley’s status as a fashion legend.
With two memoirs under his belt, and a 2018 documentary film, The Gospel According to Andre, about his life, Talley has spoken extensively about the prejudice and racism he has experienced in the industry. “There’ve been some very cruel and racist moments in my life in the world of fashion,” he said in a New York Times profile, speaking of the racial slurs that were targetted against him by notable figures across fashion.
Throughout his career, Talley has also been a champion of diversity – from uplifting Black fashion designers to supporting models of all races. One of his most memorable fashion stories was for Vanity Fair in 1996, where he flipped the narrative of Gone With The Wind, having Naomi Campbell assume the role of Scarlett O’Hara, and John Galliano and Manolo Blahnik playing her servants.
“Where are the black people?” Mr. Talley said in 2018. “I look around everywhere and say, ‘Where are the black people?’ I think fashion tries to skirt the issue and finds convenient ways to spin it. There are examples of evolution, but they are few and far between.”
Across the industry, Talley’s tremendous impact can be felt. “You championed me and you have been my friend since my beginning,” wrote Marc Jacobs on Instagram.
Playright Jeremy O.Harris wrote how Talley paved the way for Black creatives in the industry. “For a little black gay boy who reached for the stars from the south there were few people I could look up to up there amongst the stars who looked like me just more fab except for you André.” British Vogue editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, echoed this statement: “Without you, there would be no me,” he wrote.
Talley will be remembered as one of our industry’s heroes. Our thoughts and condolences are with his friends, family and all those who loved him.
Top image by Bill Cunningham for the New York Times, 2004.