Remembering The Life of Andre Leon Talley
Andre Leon Talley, the ground-breaking fashion editor died in New York on Jan. 18, 2022, at the age of 73 from complications due to covid-19, according to his estate.
Mr. Talley was the long-time creative director of American Vogue, the only Black person to hold that position. He was also editor of Numéro Russia and his byline appeared in Vanity Fair, HG, Interview, Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily. Mr. Talley was a dominating presence in fashion at a time when the industry was a cordoned off club whose members were European aristocrats, globe-trotting socialites and the monied. He was often the lone Black person at the ball, at the show, at the decision-making table.
Over the years, Mr. Talley was a counselor and friend to veteran designers Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, Diane von Furstenberg, Manolo Blahnik, Patrick Kelly, Tom Ford and countless others. He supported young designers from New York to Paris, lending them his exuberant validation and touting their work to colleagues and competitors alike.
His taste in fashion was both catholic and precise. The foundation of his aesthetic sensibility lay in his Southern roots. He was born in Washington, DC but was raised by his maternal grandmother Bennie Frances Davis in Durham, North Carolina. A cleaning woman at Duke University, Mrs. Davis carried herself with dignity and style. Her grandson was enthralled watching her prepare for Sunday service each week. Her hats and gloves and attention to detail gave him a keen understanding of fashion’s ability to weave a narrative and define identity. He saw fashion as a rebuke to stereotypes and prejudices.
Mr. Talley received his master’s degree from Brown University where he studied French history and literature. His thesis explored the role of Blackness in the novels of Gustave Flaubert, the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and the paintings of Eugène Delacroix. Mr. Talley’s was both a literary and visual assessment. He considered not only what was said, but what was seen. The effusive and fizzy pronouncements that years later filled his stories and guided his visual compositions were a blend of Ivy League education, an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire Vogue catalog and the good home training of the Black tradition.
Mr. Talley wrote books on Valentino and Oscar de la Renta and the little black dress. He chronicled his own life in A.L.T.: A Memoir and The Chiffon Trenches. He was also the subject of the documentary The Gospel According to André.
For more than 13 years, he served on the board of trustees of Savannah College of Art and Design, which honored him in 2001 with its first-lifetime achievement award in fashion– an accolade that now bears his name. SCAD held a special place in Mr. Talley’s heart. He enthusiastically supported its students, helping them secure both apprenticeships and full-time jobs in fashion and costume design. He donated a trove of his papers to the school with the hope that his past could inspire its students’ future.
Mr. Talley received an honorary doctorate from SCAD in 2008. He was presented the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic in 2020 and the North Carolina Governor’s award for literature in 2021.
He is survived by his dear cousin Shirley Austin and a host of other relatives.
An official memorial will be announced in the spring – Mr. Talley’s favorite time of year.
The above was written by Robin Givhan on behalf of the family and estate of André Leon Talley.
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