Fashion designers and celebrities have paid tribute to former Vogue creative director Andre Leon Talley who has died aged 73. The influential fashion journalist died on Tuesday in New York, his representatives at TAA PR said in a statement.
“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,” TAA PR said. “Mr Talley was the larger-than-life, long time creative director at Vogue during its rise to dominance as the world’s fashion bible.”
Over the past five decades as an international icon, Talley was a close confidant of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Paloma Picasso, the statement said, adding that he had a penchant for discovering, nurturing and celebrating young designers.
Talley, who was a regular in the front row of fashion shows in New York and Europe, campaigned for diversity in the fashion world. TV lovers also remember him as a judge on America’s Top Model and for appearing on Sex and the City and Empire. U.S. costume designer Arianne Phillips said Talley was a “larger than life icon” while actress Kerry Washington wrote on Instagram: “The whole afterlife is going to be just too fabulous now… You blessed us with your charm and wit and your taste for the exceptional.”
As the fashion world and fans continue to reflect on the amazing life and career of Talley, here are some facts you should know about him.
Born during the Jim Crow era
Talley was born on October 16, 1948, in Washington, D.C., and raised in North Carolina during the Jim Crow era. His grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, who worked as a cleaning lady at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, raised him. Interestingly, Talley’s relationship with Vogue started at Duke University, where he often walked to in his youth to read the magazine. His grandmother would become one of the most important women in his life.
“Bennie Frances Davis may have looked like a typical, African American domestic worker to many of the people who saw her on an ordinary day, but I, who could see her soul, could also see her secret: that even while she wore a hair net and work clothes to scrub toilets and floors, she wore an invisible diadem,” Talley wrote in his 2003 memoir, A.L.T.: A Memoir.
Talley’s life was tough growing up during Jim Crow. And due to his large size as a Black man (he was at six foot seven inches tall before his death) and the fact that he was drawn to luxury fashion, he was often tormented and he even had rocks thrown at him, he said in a documentary. But he didn’t let those experiences affect him, eventually becoming a fashion icon known for not only his outsized personality but also his outsize capes and coats. He still went ahead to confront moments of racism but didn’t let that break him.
He befriended big names in the fashion world
Before attending Brown University, where he earned an M.A. in French literature, Talley attended the historic North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina (NCCU). There, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature in 1970 and then moved to New York City where his love for fashion grew thanks to the fashion gurus he met. He first apprenticed for former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, who was then a Special Consultant for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vreeland then connected him to Andy Warhol and he began writing for Warhol’s Interview magazine. Talley then worked for Women’s Wear Daily, where his French skills helped him land a job as the publication’s Paris bureau chief.
He made waves at Vogue
After working for Women’s Wear Daily, W, and The New York Times, Talley moved to Vogue magazine. There, he first worked as Fashion News Director from 1983 to 1987 and then Creative Director from 1988 to 1995. He had a close relationship with Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and even when he left to work with W in 1995, he came back to Vogue as a contributing editor and then Editor-at-Large. He served in that role until 2013, following a bitter split with Wintour and Vogue. Talley then took on a new role at Russian publication Numéro Russia, becoming the first Editor-in-Chief of the magazine.
Style advisor to Michelle Obama
In 2008, Talley advised the Obama family on fashion and introduced the future First Lady Michelle Obama to Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu. Obama bought many dresses from Wu, who also went on to design her inaugural gown.
He worked as a park ranger
The fashion legend told the Associated Press in 2003 that he worked as a park ranger in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, where he told visitors about slaves who built Fort Washington. He sometimes dressed up as a Civil War soldier.
He considered shoes the most important part of an outfit
“You can tell everything about a person by what he puts on his feet,” Talley told the AP in an interview recently.
“If it’s a man and you can see the reflection of his face on the top of his black shoes, it means they’ve been polished to perfection. … If it’s a woman and she’s wearing shoes that hurt … well, shoes that hurt are very fashionable!”
Indeed, Talley lived for beauty and style and before his death, he was awarded the Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres honor for arts and letters. It is one of the highest French honors. The award was given to him in 2021 for significantly contributing to the “inheritance of French culture.”