André Leon Talley, former Vogue creative director and pioneering fashion industry icon, died on January 18. His death was confirmed with a statement posted to his official social media accounts.
The statement read, “It is with great sadness we announce the passing of André Leon Talley on January 18, 2022 in New York. Mr. Talley was the larger-than-life, longtime creative director at Vogue during its rise to dominance as the world’s fashion bible.”
“Over the past five decades as an international icon was a close confidant of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Paloma Picasso, Diane von Furstenberg, Bethann Hardison, Manolo Blahnik and he had a penchant for discovering, nurturing and celebrating young designers. His byline appeared in Vanity Fair, HG, Interview, Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily and he was the editor of Numero Russia,” the statement continued, before listing more of Talley’s countless accomplishments.
Talley was born in Washington, D.C. in 1948 and raised by his maternal grandmother in Jim Crow-era North Carolina. He credited his grandmother, who worked as a cleaning lady at Duke University and religiously attended church in her Sunday best, with first teaching him about luxury, dignity, and fashion. As a young boy, he started to read old issues of Vogue at the public library and further fell in love with fashion.
Talley graduated from the HBCU North Carolina Central University in 1970, then received a scholarship to Brown University where he got Masters of Arts in French literature. After, he moved to New York where he apprenticed for Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume institute. The apprenticeship ultimately led to his hiring at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. As a member of Warhol’s circle, Talley experienced the best of 1970s New York City nightlife, and was often a regular Studio 54, where he danced with celebrities like Diana Ross.
Talley eventually moved to France, where he served as WWD’s Paris bureau chief. There, he forged friendships with iconic designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, and Oscar de la Renta.
Still, as Talley noted in his memoir, he was always something of an outsider because he was the rare Black man in the room, towering over others at 6'6'’. He often faced racism at the hands of other members of fashion elite. His outsider status was complicated by his fluid sexuality, but ultimately made him an icon for queer people around the fashion world.
As Talley aged and gained weight, his place in fashion was also challenged by the industry’s virulent fatphobia. He started to wear luxurious caftans when he realized bespoke suits were no longer an option in his size, and his preference for the items became an iconic part of his legacy.
Talley began his iconic career at Vogue first as a Fashion News Director in 1983. He then became Vogue’s first Black Creative Director in 1988, staying in the role until 1995. Though he briefly left Vogue to work at W, he returned to Vogue as an editor-at-large in 1998, where he remained until 2013.
Talley was close friends with Vogue chief Anna Wintour for many years, but the pair fell out in 2016. Still, in his 2020 memoir Chiffon Trenches, he credited her with making him “the highest-ranking black man in the history of fashion journalism.”
In addition to his career as a fashion journalist and writer, Talley also appeared as a judge on America’s Next Top Model from Cycle 14 until Cycle 17, and was the subject of the 2017 documentary The Gospel According to André.
Most recently, he was awarded 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.