Groundbreaking Fashion Innovator Andre Leon Talley took his final breath Tuesday, January 18th stemming from cardiac and Covid complications sending shockwaves throughout social media and fashion elites across the globe. Best known as the former creative director of Vogue with his signature cape and kaftan style gracing fashion events worldwide, his repertoire was vastly admired but it was his integrity that defined him.
Born October 16, 1948 in Washington, D.C. to parents Alma Ruth Davis and William C. Talley, Andre was left to be raised by his maternal grandmother Binnie Francis Davis who worked at Duke University as a cleaning lady, to whom he praised for instilling in him the “understanding of luxury”.
Growing up during the Jim Crow era in the south had its challenges for the young visionary yet his adoration for fashion fueled his ambitious mindset leading him to discover the world of style and culture by way of vintage couture publication, Vogue magazine.
After graduating high school, Andre attended North Carolina Central University where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in French Literature and later earned his Master’s writing a thesis on the influence of Black Women using the work of French poet Charles Baudelaire.
In 1974, the 6-foot-6 aspirant took his explorative talents to New York where he landed an unpaid apprentice position under French-American fashion editor Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fascinated by his skill set, she referred Talley to work at renowned artist Andy Wohl’s factory and his publication Interview Magazine where he initiated his rise to journalism.
Soon after, offers from fashion publications like “Women’s Wear Daily” working as its Paris bureau chief and “W” were building his upscale resume amongst “The New York Times”, “Ebony” and many others before solidifying his position with Vogue as a fashion news director and later promoted to the magazine’s first Black male creative director, the pivotal role of his career.
Leon became a powerful advocate of diversity within the fashion industry inciting top designers to feature more Black models on the runway and ultimately branding a movement introducing innovative people of color designers LaQuan Smith, stylist to Serena Williams, Jason Wu, designer to first lady Michelle Obama, and John Galliano, head designer of Givenchy, Christian Dior and self-owned label to name a few.
Talley’s posh creativity lead him to become best-selling author of books “Mega Star”, “A.L.T.-A Memoir”, “A.L.T.-365+” and, “The Chiffon Trenches” along with mentoring numerous heavyweights within the industry-supermodels Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks and artist Dario Calmese, the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vanity Fair in addition to being an apostle of the LBGT movement.
His awarded accolades were: 2003-Eugenia Sheppard Award for Fashion Journalism, 2008-Savannah College of Art and Design Honorary Doctor of Humanities, 2011-The Andre Leon Talley Gallery at SCAD Museum of Art 2020-Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres honor of arts and letters and, 2021-North Carolina Award for literature.
Talley’s bold designs and considerable influence within the world of fashion embodied the cutting edge imposing figure he was. His high stature of pristine eminence was not just figuratively but notably vigilant as a important contributor of Black history. His legacy altered the face of fashion and beauty of color, breaking boundaries while never forgetting his roots.