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Andre Leon Talley
Andre Leon Talley at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.jpg
Born: October 16, 1948
Birth Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Died: January 18, 2022
Place of death: White Plains, New York
Occupation: Fashion journalist
Years active: 1974–2022

Andre Leon Talley (October 16, 1948 – January 18, 2022) was an American fashion journalist, stylist, creative director, and editor-at-large of Vogue magazine. He was the magazine's fashion news director from 1983 to 1987, its first African-American male creative director from 1988 to 1995, and then its editor-at-large from 1998 to 2013. Often regarded as a fashion icon, he was known for supporting emerging designers and advocating for diversity in the fashion industry; while the capes, kaftans, and robes he wore became his trademark look. Talley also served on the judging panel for America's Next Top Model (from Cycle 14 to Cycle 17).

He also authored three books, including the memoir The Chiffon Trenches, which landed on The New York Times Best Seller list; and co-authored a book with Richard Bernstein. Talley was the editor-at-large of Numéro Russia in 2013, before resigning due to anti-LGBT laws in Russia. He additionally worked stints with Andy Warhol at Interview, Women's Wear Daily, W, Ebony and The New York Times. He once served as a stylist for United States President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during their time in the White House; as well as styling Melania Trump for her 2005 wedding to Donald Trump.

In 2020, France awarded him the Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres honor for arts and letters; and the following year he received the North Carolina Award for his role in literature. He was featured in the documentaries The First Monday in May and The September Issue, and was the subject of the documentary, The Gospel According to André directed by Kate Novack.

Early life and education[]

Talley was born on October 16, 1948, in Washington, D.C., the son of Alma Ruth Davis and William C. Talley, a taxi driver. At least one of his grandfathers was a sharecropper. His parents left him to be raised by his maternal grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, who worked as a cleaning lady at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. Talley credited her for giving him an "understanding of luxury" and stated, following her death, "I miss her almost every day."

He grew up in the Jim Crow era South, where segregation defined social boundaries. He said, "For a long time my grandmother would not allow white people to come into our house. That was her rule. The only white man who ever came into the house was the coroner." His early love of fashion was nurtured by his grandmother and further cultivated upon his discovery of Voguemagazine at a local library at the age of nine or ten.

Talley was educated at Hillside High School, graduating in 1966, and North Carolina Central University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature in 1970. He won a scholarship to Brown University, where he earned a Master of Arts degree in French literature in 1972. At Brown, he wrote a thesis on the influence of black women on Charles Baudelaire and initially planned to teach French.

Career[]

Through the student connections he made in Providence, Rhode Island, he apprenticed, unpaid, for Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. Thoroughly impressed by his skills, the Vogue editor arranged for Talley to work at Andy Warhol's Factory and Interview magazine for $50 a week. He went on to write for Women's Wear Daily, becoming its Paris bureau chief, and W, from 1975 through 1980. He also worked for The New York Times, Ebony, and other publications before finally landing at Vogue, where he worked as the fashion news director from 1983 to 1987 and, later, as the magazine's first African-American male creative director from 1988 to 1995.

He pushed top designers to feature more African-American models in their shows. In 1984, he co-wrote with Richard Bernstein the book MegaStar, with an introduction by Paloma Picasso, which includes portraits of celebrities. He left his role as creative director at Vogue, while continuing to serve as contributing editor, in order to move to Paris in 1995 to work for W. In 1998, he returned to Vogue as the editor-at-large, a position he held until his departure in 2013 to pursue another editorial venture.

In 2003, he authored an autobiography entitled A.L.T.: A Memoir, published by Villard in 2003. According to Publishers Weekly, the message delivered by the book is that "Style transcends race, class, and time." Two years later, he authored A.L.T. 365+, an art monograph designed by art director Sam Shahid, featuring photos and captions from one year of Talley's life.

In 2008, Talley advised the Obama family on fashion, while also styling Michelle Obama her for her first Vogue cover, and introducing her to Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu, who went on to make several dresses for the First Lady, including her inaugural gown. Talley's later pairings have been with designers Tracy Reese, Rachel Roy, and singer-actress Jennifer Hudson. He also styled Melania Trump for her 2005 wedding to Donald Trump.

From March 2010 to December 2011, Talley served on the judging panel for America's Next Top Model (from Cycle 14 to Cycle 17). From 2013 to 2014, he served as international editor of Numéro Russia, joining the team shortly after the magazine launched in March 2013 but resigned after 12 issues due to anti-LGBT laws in Russia. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Savannah College of Art and Design since 1995.

In January 2017, he live-blogged the Trump inauguration with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. In April of that year, Talley began hosting his own radio show centered on fashion and pop culture on Sirius XM satellite station Radio Andy.

Talley is the subject of a documentary film The Gospel According to André, directed by Kate Novack, which was screened in September 2016 at the Toronto Film Festival and was released in the U.S. on May 25, 2018. Reviewing the film, Variety said: "The documentary is a deeply loving, frequently beautiful testament to the former Vogue editor, who rose from humble beginnings in North Carolina to become arguably the high fashion world's first major African-American tastemaker, as well as the type of multi-lingual, Russian-lit-citing public intellectual who is perfectly at ease gossiping on TV with Wendy Williams." Talley was also featured in the documentaries The First Monday in May and The September Issue.

He released The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir on May 19, 2020. In it, he chronicles his start in New York City in the 1970s, his tumultuous relationship with Wintour, and his experiences with racism in the fashion world. It became a New York Times Best Seller.

Personal life[]

In 2007, Talley was ranked 45th in Out magazine's "50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America". During his May 29, 2018, appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, when asked about his sexual orientation, Talley stated, "No, I'm not heterosexual; I'm saying I'm fluid in my sexuality, darling."

Talley was a practicing Christian, attending the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In 2018, fashion critic Robin Givhan wrote that church attendance was among the chief elements that "influence the way he judges beauty and prioritizes grace."

In the mid-2000s, Anna Wintour initiated an intervention to encourage Talley to lose weight. He eventually lost a great deal of weight and continued to prioritize exercise and well-being by frequenting the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in the late 2010s. In his final years, Talley would hold court and eat nearly all of his meals at the City Limits Diner near his home in White Plains, New York.

Death and tributes[]

Talley died from complications of a heart attack and COVID-19 at a hospital in White Plains, New York, on January 18, 2022, at the age of 73.

Talley's death elicited an outpouring of sympathy and tribute from many friends, admirers, and organizations. Vogue editor-in-chief, Dame Anna Wintour, 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".

In a statement to Entertainment Tonight, his former America's Next Top Model colleague Tyra Banks stated, "I adored Andre. Before meeting him, I had never experienced such a prolific person serving up a rare mix of fashion 'fabulousness' and real down-home southern comfort love. Being in his presence was so magical. He made me smile, laugh and was a masterful teacher - a genius historian, scholar, colleague, effervescent spirit, legend…you are resting now, Dearest Andre. But your spirit, your je ne sais quoi, your iconic voice…I hear it now. And will forever. We all will."

Michelle Obama posted, "André Leon Talley was a one-of-a-kind presence who changed the face of fashion and beauty for a generation of girls just like me. He will be missed, but I know his legacy will continue inspiring people for years to come".

Other figures who have paid tribute to Talley include Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Viola Davis, Diane von Fürstenberg, Bette Midler, Kim Kardashian, Zendaya, Oprah Winfrey, Jeremy O. Harris, and Edward Enninful.

His memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, topped Amazon's fashion best-sellers chart and sold out at several book stores following the news of his death.

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