Photo Credit: Cindy Ord
Andre Leon Talley: How The Fashion Icon From North Carolina Inspired The World
“It is with great sadness we announce the passing of our dear friend and client, the indomitable Andre Leon Talley on January 18, 2022 in New York,” Talley’s representative at TAA PR confirmed. “Mr. Talley was the larger-than-life, long time creative director at Vogue during its rise to dominance as the world’s fashion bible.”
Talley was born on Oct. 16 in 1948 in Washington, D.C. but grew up in Durham, North Carolina where he was raised by his grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis. His grandmother was a cleaner at Duke University – where his love for the magazine started.
Talley opened up to The Washington Post in a recent interview about how he managed growing up in the south during the Civil Rights era and what it was like going to the “white part of town” to read Vogue.
“I didn’t even think about [a white part of town] until students threw rocks out of the car at me one Sunday afternoon,” he stated. “I would always go on Sunday to the East Campus of Duke University beacause it had a magazine stand. I was so naive. I just loved the process of going, walking across the railroad tracks to that side of town to get the Vogue magazine.”
He often described the tunnel vision he had growing up reading what he called “an escape from the real world” in the pages of Vogue. It was a vision that carried him through the tough times of growing up in the Jim Crow Era in the south and the bullying he faced as a larger Black man who was drawn to luxury fashion.
That focus is what allowed him to earn degrees from the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and Brown University where he majored in French literature. He moved to New York City and got his first apprenticeship working for former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, who was the Special Consultant for the Costume Institute att the Metropolitan Musuem of Art.
Vreeland introduced him to Andy Warhol and shortly after, Talley began writing for Warhol’s Interview Magazine. He later worked as a writer for Women’s Wear Daily, and it was his French skills that helped him to land a job as the Paris Bureau Chief for the publication.
André Leon Talley saw history unfold right in front of him and documented it for us to read forever. I can’t do him justice. pic.twitter.com/A29ZAfq7TJ— FELIPE (@felipemnzp) January 19, 2022
Talley worked at Vogue as the Fashion News Director from 1983 to 1987, and then Creative Director from 1988 to 1995.
His success, the fact that he was a good friend to Oscar de la Renta, had close ties to Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Paloma Picasso, Diane von Furstenberg, Bethann Hardison, Manolo Blahnik are the many reasons he was described by the New Yorker in 1994 as “The Only One,” in reference to how rare it was for a Black man to be atop the fashion industry.
His last role at vogue was a contributing editor and then Editor-at-Large before a nasty and public fued with Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour in 2013.
Following the split, he became the first Editor-in-Chief of the Russian publication Numéro Russia.
But his influence stretched beyond the words, footnotes, and captions in magazines.
In 2008, Talley reportedly served as a fashion advisor for the Obama family and introduced the future First Lady Michelle Obama to Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu. Wu designed the former first lady’s embroidered white silk chiffon one-shoulder inaugural ball gown.
Talley was a force in the fashion industry for both his flair and towering frame. He was reportedly 6 feet and 6 inches tall, and his voluminous capes became his signature style.
He was recently awarded the Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres honor for arts and letters in 2021. It is one of the highest French honors and was given to him for significantly contributing to the “inheritance of French culture.”