It is with great sadness that we report Black style icon and fashion editor at Vogue Magazine, André Leon Talley has died at 73 years old.
Talley’s encyclopedic knowledge of fabrics, designers, the breadth of the fashion industry ecosphere, and every nuance and detail of the work that goes into fashion editorial presentation and publishing made him an undeniable visionary.
He defied the exclusive, ultra-whiteness of the couture fashion industry with his unapologetically boisterous voice and dramatic clothing, oftentimes wearing an array of long, billowing capes, a visual extension of his outgoing personality.
Beginning his career in 1974 as Diana Vreeland’s apprentice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Talley displayed his incredible work ethic, landing positions at Interview Magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, W Magazine, Ebony and The New York Times.
He began his professional journey at Vogue Magazine as the fashion news director in 1983, and rose to the role of the first Black creative director of the publication in 1988, then editor-at-large from 1998 to 2013. But his titles could not define the history he was making as a Black man who grew up in the Jim Crow South who entered the upper echelon of Paris fashion and beyond. Talley could style a shoot with a pristine eye for elegance and imagination. He was a mentor to Naomi Campell and styled Michelle Obama when she served as First Lady of the United States. But with all of his many accomplishments, Talley was rooted in the Black church community in Harlem.
“Mr. Talley was a fixture at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where, according to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, he arrived with celebrities like Mariah Carey and Tamron Hall but was known for his serious faith,” writes The New York Times. “With all his celebrity and globe-trotting, he came in the best of times and he showed up in the worst of times,” Rev. Butts tells The Times, “He showed up to worship. He supported the church, he gave generously, and his friends loved him.”
Talley never forgot where he came from and never shied away from the reality of his Blackness and homosexuality. He knew he was an outlier in an industry that was not made for him to excel. But he handled his differences with incredible humor. “When I was 14, my uncle asked what I wanted to be, and I said a fashion editor. He began screaming, ‘Scandal! Scandal! Scandal!’ My grandmother just looked at me.”
He is said to be the first journalist to write about LaQuan Smith and other designers of color, using his platform to expand the reach and opportunities for Black creatives in the industry.
There will never be anyone like him again, but it is important to always remember that he had a hand in changing the world and how we see it.