André Leon Talley:
A life well-lived
André Leon Talley, a fashion legend, died at the age of 73 on Jan. 18, 2022, at a White Plains hospital due to complications with COVID. He held positions as Vogue’s editor-at-large and creative director; worked at Andy Warhol’s Interview
Magazine and at Women’s Wear Daily; and judged on Tyra Banks’ TV Show “America’s Next Top Model.”
My first introduction to André Leon Talley was back in the late 1970s, when Black designers reigned on Fashion’s 7th Avenue, but André was at the top of the fashion industry here in the U.S. and abroad. At fashion shows worldwide, he sat in the front row. He knew all the designers, models, manufacturers and VIPs of the industry. At the beginning of my fashion editor’s position, representing the N.Y. Amsterdam News, I was astonished by André Leon Talley’s commanding presence in the room. He strutted in busily, head held high, towering over many in his 6-foot-6 inch tall stature. A smart dresser, his clothes were often vintage and well put-together. Whether it was a suit or caftan, he looked elegant.
Once, I asked the editor sitting next to me. “Who’s that?” “Oh, that’s André Leon Talley, an editor-at-large at Vogue magazine,” was the immediate reply. I observed him closely, heading towards his front row seat where he often sat next to Vogue’s
Anna Wintour and close to other influential fashion VIPs including Ebony magazine publisher Mrs. Johnson, Susan Taylor of Essence, June Weir of Women’s Wear Daily or Bernadine Morris of The New York Times. He knew everyone in fashion and they knew him. He was always extremely helpful, gracious, kind and about his business. A celebrity, André was always on the lookout for the best dressed, the new subject or face in the crowd.
His opinions about fashion and politics were strong, along with his support for the LGBTQIA community. “The ’70s era was a fabulous time in fashion, especially for designers like Willi Smith, Patrick Kelly, Stephen Burrows, Scott Barrie. Models like Naomi Sims, Pat
Cleaveland, Beth Ann Hardison, Beverly Johnson, Billie Blaire, and Spoonbread’s Norma Jean Darden reigned [on] the fashion runways, from New York to Paris, London and Italy.” Reflecting back, I remember it was Audrey Smaltz of The Ground Crew who introduced me to André. While I was in Paris, France in the early ’80s, he opened doors for me at designer houses and fashion shows.
André was born in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. to Alma and William Carroll Talley, in 1948. His parents moved to Durham, North Carolina, where his grandmother, Bennie Francis Davis, raised him while his parents worked in the nation’s capital. In his 2003 memoir, “A.T.L.: A Memoir,” he talked about the two women who influenced his career, his grandmother Bennie Francis Davis and Diana Vreeland.
Mr. Talley held a master’s degree from Brown University and studied to be a French teacher, before being hired by Diana Vreeland as her assistant at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute in New York. In his 2020 memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” published by Ballantine, he wrote of how Ms. Vreeland, a high priestess in fashion, recognized Talley’s tremendous talent at a young age. Vreeland introduced him to all the right people, and asked him to stay in New York one Christmas holiday. Vreeland felt New York held something special for him. Yes, there was drama with Anna Wintour later; however, the recent tabloids reported, they settled their dispute. André never brought any of his personal troubles to work. He was a fashion idol. Whenever you saw him, he gave you a soft smile and everyone knew the show was on.
According to the AP, “Designer Dianne Von Furstenberg praised Talley on Instagram, writing: ‘No one saw the world in a more glamorous way than you did…no one was grander and more soulful than you were.’”
I spotted André once, as he slipped in the side door of The Abyssinian Baptist Church, and he knelt down and bowed his head while the Reverend Calvin Butts was giving a sermon. I was seated on the balcony. During another interview, he confessed that one of his proudest fashion moments was the Vogue assignment to shoot a cover and interview former First Lady Michelle Obama.
His genius, flair and excellence will be missed.
A passion for fashion. Internationally renowned style guru André Leon Talley allows director Kate Novack rare behind-the-scenes access in this enlightening and deeply uplifting documentary.
Featuring interviews with some of fashion’s elite, as well as illuminating moments with a few of Talley’s childhood friends, the film delves deep into André’s humble upbringing in 1950s’ North Carolina.
What is unearthed is a stunning portrait of a warm, engaging, larger-than-life character. Follow his inspirational rise to the highest echelons of the international fashion industry.