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André Leon Talley was an exquisite American fashion journalist, stylist, creative director, and editor-at-large of Vogue magazine who unfortunately passed away at 73. He has been a great influence in the fashion industry for the past six decades making his unique mark with grace and style. Known for his extravagant capes and kaftans, his style was immaculate and he paved the way for so many minorities in the industry. He was the first black man to hold the position of creative director at Vogue. Talley was also a queer man who made it a point to mentor and sponsor other artists of color. He helped advance the careers of different POC designers, including LaQuan Smith, who then later styled American tennis player Serena Williams in his designs. Talley expanded beyond fashion and was the subject of the documentary, The Gospel According to André directed by Kate Novack, as well as author of The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir.
“Clothes are my security blanket, and my outfits are my armor against the world of the chiffon trenches.” – “The Gospel According to André Leon Talley”
Talley grew up in Durham, N.C. during the Jim Crow era and was raised by his grandmother who was a cleaning woman at Duke University. Talley was the grandson of a sharecropper and his father drove a taxi for a living. His early love of fashion came from his grandmother which led to his discovery of Vogue at a local library when he was a child. “Vogue was my hobby, and no one in my family ever had a copy of the magazine in the house until I did,” he told Interview. Talley later moved from the segregated south to New York and created a legacy. He won a scholarship and attended Brown University where he earned a Master of Arts degree in French Literature in 1972. Talley’s career blossomed and he began to work with The New York Times, Interview Magazine, and Ebony and has pushed top designers to feature more African-American models in their shows. Talley’s influence goes much further than the runway. He always encouraged inclusivity and diversity in the workplace and was admired for being a voice for marginalized groups. Although Talley’s upbringing was filled with trials and tribulations during the pre-civil rights era, he managed to become undoubtedly one of the most prominent African Americans in the fashion industry.
Talley had a larger than life persona and a confidence that is still admired today. In 2007, Talley was ranked in Out magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America.” Talley has also made some cameos in pop cultures favorite shows, movies and music videos including Sex and The City, Valentino: The Last Emperor and the “Say Somethin” music video by Mariah Carey. Talley opened a galley in the SCAD Museum of Art in 2011 which features beautiful artwork and design exhibits. Talley has received plenty of accolades for his impact in the fashion world as well, some of his awards include the 2003 Eugenia Sheppard Award for Fashion Journalism from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the 2008 Honorary Doctor of Humanities award from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
His passing has touched the hearts of many, including Vogue’s Anna Wintour who wrote “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.” Talley has opened many doors for minorities in the industry and has proved that with true passion and dedication you can truly accomplish anything. Talleys influence and impact in the fashion world will always be remembered.