André Leon Talley, Influential Fashion Icon, Journalist, And Vogue Legend, Dies At...

André Leon Talley, Influential Fashion Icon, Journalist, And Vogue Legend, Dies At 73

By Idoreyin Sampson | Sub-Editor on January 19, 2022
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André Leon Talley
André Leon Talley at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 18, 2017 in New York City.

André Leon Talley, the larger-than-life fashion editor who shattered his industry’s glass ceiling when he went from the Jim Crow South to the front rows of Paris couture, parlaying his encyclopedic knowledge of fashion history and his quick wit into roles as author, public speaker, television personality and curator, died on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. He was 73.

Mr Talley’s death, after a series of health struggles, was announced on his official Instagram. “It is with great sadness we announce the passing of André Leon Talley on January 18, 2022 in New York,” the statement began.

“Mr. Talley was the larger-than-life, longtime creative director at Vogue during its rise to dominance as the world’s fashion bible.

“Over the past five decades as an international icon was a close confidant of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Paloma Picasso, Diane von Furstenberg, Bethann Hardison, Manolo Blahnik and he had a penchant for discovering, nurturing and celebrating young designers. His byline appeared in Vanity Fair, HG, Interview, Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily and he was the editor of Numero Russia.

“Mr. Talley wrote several books, including Valentino, A.L.T.: A Memoir, A.L.T. 365+ and Little Black Dress for Assouline, and contributed to Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table and Cartier Panthère.

He was the subject of the documentary The Gospel According to André and his recent memoir, The Chiffon Trenches became a New York Times Best Seller.

“In 2014, he was named artistic director of Zappos Couture, and he has been on the Board of Trustees of Savannah College of Art and Design since 2000.

“Mr. Talley was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic in 2020 and the North Carolina Governor’s award for literature in 2021. He was a long-standing member of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. 🕊 #thechiffontrenches. ” the statement ended.

His friend, Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation also wrote, “André Leon Talley was a singular force in an industry that he had to fight to be recognized in,” Mr. Walker said, calling him a “creative genius” and noting his ability to craft a persona for himself out of “a deep academic understanding of fashion and design.”’)

Notable names in fashion and entertainment have expressed shock and grief at the passing of Talley, who was regarded as a trailblazer in the fashion world.

Designer Diane von Fürstenberg bid her friend goodbye in an Instagram with a throwback photo, writing, “Good bye darling André ❤️🙏…no one saw the world in a more glamorous way than you did ❤️🙏… no one was grander and more soulful than you were ❤️🙏…the world will be less joyful now ❤️🙏 I have loved you and laughed with you for 45 years…. I miss your loud screams …I love you soooo much ❤️🙏.”

Designer Marc Jacobs also paid tribute expressing shock in an Instagram with a photo of he and Talley.

“You championed me and you have been my friend since my beginning. Our chats, the moments we shared….oh my friend. You and your passions were larger than life. I love you and I will miss you dear Andre. Rest In Peace.”

Born in 1948 and raised in North Carolina in the Jim Crow era, Talley was a lifelong advocate of fashion, recalling in his 2020 memoir The Chiffon Trenches how he would visit his local library to read copies of Vogue magazine, which came to embody a world in which “bad things never happened”. Speaking to the Guardian in 2020, Talley recalled students at his university stoning him as he crossed campus on Sundays to buy Vogue.

His career in fashion began with an internship for former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. Vreeland, impressed with his skills, introduced Talley to contacts at Andy Warhol’s Factory and Interview magazine, where he worked as a receptionist. He began writing for publications including W and the New York Times, but it was at US Vogue that he made his name, rising up the ranks to become the magazine’s news director, then creative director until 1995 when he left. He returned to the magazine three years later and remained the editor-at-large until 2013.

Talley’s long working relationship with Vogue editor Anna Wintour would become the big selling point of his second memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, in which Talley took unsparing potshots at his former boss. Talley felt he had lost favour because “I had suddenly become too old, too overweight and too uncool”. Wintour, he wrote, was incapable of “simple human kindness” and “never really passionate about clothes. Power was her passion.” In the book he also detailed the sexual abuse he endured as a child, and the racism and sizeism he encountered throughout his life.

He felt “at home” in the fashion world, he once told The Guardian, because “there were no victims, only high-octane egos”.

In 2021 he was softer on Wintour, telling the Cut: “She’s the empress. She’s worked hard. She’s gone through many battles. She deserves everything they give her. At 72, to have that job, is very, very, very impressive. I wish her all the best.”

Talley also served as a judge on America’s Next Top Model and, in 2008, became the Obama family’s fashion advisor. He interviewed Michelle Obama for Vogue when she stepped into the role of first lady in 2009, later calling her “the most fashionable woman in America”. But in 2020 he publicly criticised the Obamas for throwing a birthday party during the Covid pandemic, telling The New York Times: “I think the nouveaux riches Obamas are seriously tone-deaf … the Obamas are in Marie Antoinette, tacky, let-them-eat-cake mode. They need to remember their humble roots.”

André Leon Talley
July 7, 2007: André Leon Talley at Valentino’s haute couture collection celebration in Rome. |
Getty

Talley never publicly defined his sexuality, calling himself “fluid”. He had never been in a relationship, he once said, something he attributed to being abused as a child. “I gave it all to my career,” he told The New York Times. “Diane von Furstenberg said, ‘He was afraid to fall in love,’ and I guess I was. I guess I was afraid, and I guess I was repressed. I grew up in a very strict household. But being in this world, moving around with all these incredible people … it was enough for me to have the friendship of Karl or the friendship of Yves Saint Laurent or the friendship of Azzedine Alaïa.”

Talley wrote two memoirs and was the subject of the 2018 documentary The Gospel According to André.

When asked if he would have been happier working outside of fashion, Talley said no. “My story is a fairytale of excess, and in every fairytale there is evil and darkness, but you overcome it with light,” he once told the Guardian. “I want every person I come across – the stranger on the street, the church member in the pew next to me – to feel love.”

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Additional reports from The Guardian, New York Times

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