André Leon Talley, fashion icon and former creative director of Vogue.
André Leon Talley, the Vogue editor whose groundbreaking innovations in fashion made him a worldwide tastemaker, died Tuesday night. He was 73.
Talley died at a hospital in White Plains, according to TMZ.
Talley made his name at Vogue, working as the magazine’s creative director in the 1980s and ‘90s and later as editor-at-large. He was often working hand in hand with Anna Wintour in shaping and reshaping the fashion world.
In one of many notable examples of his influence, Talley advised the Obamas on fashion, introducing Michelle Obama to Jason Wu, the designer who would craft her inaugural gown
Talley actively worked to make the fashion industry more diverse, putting more Black models on the runway.
“I had the opportunity to offer a point of view in my new role that was different from the tony, upscale and frequently affluent fashion editor’s,” Talley wrote in 2019. “I sounded no bullhorn over diversity but nurtured it where I could.”
By the time he wrote that, Talley had been a leading fashion voice for three decades. When credited with paving the way for more Black men and women in fashion, Talley put it as only he could: “I scorched the earth with my talent and I let my light shine.”
Born in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 16, 1948, Talley grew up in segregated Durham, N.C. He read his first Vogue issue while in grade school.
“It was my gateway to the world outside of Durham,” Talley told NPR in 2018. “It was the world of literature, what was happening in the world of art, what was happening in the world of entertainment.”
Talley went on to make that world his own. He developed his own personal style — good luck finding someone with more capes and caftans — and created the world’s.
Talley got his start at the Met in the 1970s, moving from there to Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory, and his magazine, Interview.
“I felt that I was part of a special club at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, and they embraced me and there was no criticism of me as there would’ve been at home,” he told NPR.
The multitalented Talley continued his work at Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine, before eventually landing at Vogue and rising through the ranks of Wintour’s empire. He became creative director in 1988 and continued in the position until 1995.
“When she hired me, though I thought little of it at the time, I made history, too: I became the first African American man named creative director of one of the premier fashion magazines in the world,” he wrote in his 2019 Washington Post column.
An LBGT+ icon, Talley was rarely, if ever, shy about his sexuality. He told Wendy Williams in 2018: “I’m not heterosexual; I’m saying I’m fluid in my sexuality, darling.”
Talley moved from creative director to editor-at-large from 1998 to 2013, following a brief hiatus. Even after his official departure from Vogue in 2013, he remained on the masthead. For short time from March 2010 to December 2011, Talley was also a judge on “America’s Next Top Model.”
In 2003, he published an autobiography, “ALT: A Memoir.” But because he thought the first effort was stilted and constrained by his relationships in the fashion industry, Talley returned in 2020 with the much spicier “The Chiffon Trenches.”
The book discussed Talley’s childhood trauma of sexual abuse, his tumultuous relationship with Wintour (he called his ex-boss not capable of “simple human kindness”) and how he battled racism throughout his career.
But Talley, wrapped in luxury and overflowing with love, always sought to see the positives of his life.
“My story is a fairytale of excess, and in every fairytale there is evil and darkness, but you overcome it with light,” he told The Guardian in 2020 while discussing the book. “I want every person I come across — the stranger on the street, the church member in the pew next to me — to feel love. I have not been privy to love in my life, but I want them to feel that they have received some love from engaging with me, André Leon Talley.”