A visionary, a champion, and an advocate for black excellence has taken his final bow. André Leon Talley has died at 73. From working as Vogue’s editor-at-large to judging on America’s Next Top Model, Talley was a multifaceted fashion legend that opened doors for warmth, soul, and diversity on the runway.
“The loss of André is felt by so many of us today: the designers he enthusiastically cheered on every season, and who loved him for it; the generations he inspired to work in the industry, seeing a figure who broke boundaries while never forgetting where he started from; those who knew fashion, and Vogue, simply because of him; and, not forgetting, the multitude of colleagues over the years who were consistently buoyed by every new discovery of André’s, which he would discuss loudly, and volubly—no one could make people more excited about the most seemingly insignificant fashion details than him. Even his stream of colorful faxes and emails were a highly anticipated event, something we all looked forward to,” Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief, said in the magazine’s obituary.
“Yet it’s the loss of André as my colleague and friend that I think of now; it’s immeasurable. He was magnificent and erudite and wickedly funny—mercurial, too. Like many decades-long relationships, there were complicated moments, but all I want to remember today, all I care about, is the brilliant and compassionate man who was a generous and loving friend to me and to my family for many, many years, and who we will all miss so much,” she adds.
News of Talley’s passing came as a shock to everyone in the industry, and many of his friends and collaborators were quick to honor him with their words of love and remembrance.
“Goodbye, darling André…no one saw the world in a more elegant and glamorous way than you did…no one was more soulful and grander than you were…the world will be less joyful now,” renowned fashion designer and Talley’s longtime friend Diane von Fürstenberg wrote. “I have loved you and laughed with you for 45 years. I will miss your loud screams and your loyal friendship. I love you so much.”
Tyra Banks also paid tribute to Talley. “Being in his presence was so magical. He made me smile, laugh, and was a masterful teacher–a generous, genius historian,” she shared. “Scholar, colleague, effervescent spirit, legend…you are resting now, Dearest André. But your spirit, your ‘je ne sais quoi’, your VOICE – your laugh, your screams of effervescent, delightful joy…I hear it now. And will forever. We all will.”
Playwright and black queer icon Jeremy O. Harris wrote, “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.”
Born in Washington, DC on October 16, 1948, Talley was raised during the Jim Crow era by his maternal grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, a cleaning lady at the Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She was credited by him as one of the biggest cultivators of his love for fashion.
After earning a master’s degree in French literature from Brown University, he began his career in fashion as an unpaid intern for then Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. With her help, Talley soon found himself a job at Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory, and Interview magazine. From there, he went on to work at Women’s Wear Daily, W, and The New York Times.
However, working at Vogue was, at the time, his most important leap in the industry. From 1983 to 1987, he served as the magazine’s fashion news director, and Wintour named him creative director in 1988. Save from three years of working under W, he worked at Vogue until 2013.
In 2008, Talley served as the Obama family’s fashion advisor. He would then interview former first lady Michelle Obama for the March 2009 issue of Vogue, where Obama herself would grace the cover. His dedication to uplifting black excellence was celebrated by his admirers and collaborators; British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful once told Talley that he paved the way for him to become the first black man to helm the fashion magazine, words that Talley called was his proudest moment.
“It took all these years to get here, for a black man, not a black woman, [to achieve this],” he said in The Gospel According To André, a 2018 documentary by Emmy-nominated director Kate Novack. “This is a breakthrough. This is seismic. This is defining fashion. He will go down in history. A legacy.”
“I will be 70 in October and I am proud to say I have lived to see the first black man named an editor in chief of Vogue,” he added.
In mainstream culture, he was known as one of the panelists for Cycle 14 to Cycle 17 of America’s Next Top Model.
“I know for everyone on ANTM it felt like we had finally arrived having him sit at the judging panel.” Talley’s co-panelist and fashion photographer Nigel Barker shared his experience working with ALT. He went on to add, “It’s in great sadness that I share the passing of a legend, a maverick, a mentor and a friend – André Leon Talley was an extraordinary creative genius who paved the way for change and diversity in the notoriously elite fashion industry that he loved.”
Talley also published three books: A.L.T.: A Memoir, on 2003, A.L.T. 365+, on 2005, and the New York Times Best Seller, The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, on May 19, 2020, where he wrote about his rise in the fashion industry, his relationship with Anna Wintour, and his struggle with racism in the world of fashion.
André Leon Talley has left behind a world of fashion that embraces diversity, eccentricity, and humanity, all thanks to him. His legacy will carry on through today’s trailblazers inspired by his unapologetic dedication to excellence and fabulousness.
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