Andre Leon Talley: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The king of the caftan and the one who is not afraid to criticize and bring light to the dark in the
fashion industry: one cannot think of the high fashion world without the mention of Andre Leon
Talley. Despite his continuing presence on the frontlines of fashion and his larger-than-life
personality and personal fashion, Talley has contributed to fashion as we know it in more ways
than one. His staunch and elegant commentary on wear coupled with his knowledge and
awareness of the uglier sides of the world of fashion has solidified his place of iconography in
the industry forever.
Born amidst segregated America on October 4, 1949 in Durham, North Carolina, Talley was
predominantly raised by his grandmother, who incidentally worked as a domestic in the same
city where Talley was born and raised; her work and personality instilled Talley’s almost
unnatural love for fashion at such an early age. Vogue became one of his most read
publications as a teen in his local library, perhaps dictating his own future.
As a young adult, Talley received a scholarship to Brown, where he received his M.A. in French
Studies in 1973, however, rather than going into the field of what he worked so diligently on for
the past years in school, he was called again to fashion, as he was as a child, teen, and again
now. Many high profiles in the industry have wonderful starts, but few can say that they began
assisting Andy Warhol and Interview Magazine, following their unpaid apprenticeship for Diana
Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974: Talley did these things. He went on to
work at Women’s Wear Daily as its Paris bureau chief, as well as W from 1975 to 1980, as well
as the New York Times: Talley made his impact at all of these publications even before he
landed at the magazine that many know and recognize him for: Vogue. Talley had come full
circle with himself.
He served on Vogue for an extended period of time: as the Fashion News Director from 1983 to
1987 and then as Creative Director from 1988 to 1995. During this time, not only did he make
an impact on the publication as a whole with his unique outlook on fashion and style, he also
consistently questioned high fashion designers as to why they did not include more Black
models; a tall order and an almost revolutionary ask for the time period, yet Talley was
passionate and knew that fashion was not diverse and needed to make changes in order to
continue to be timely, inclusive, and relevant. Talley, a Black man growing up during
segregation knew the horrors of discrimination all too well. Despite his time at Vogue coming to
an end in 2013, with a break in between; moving to Paris, working for W as well as serving as a
contributing editor to Vogue. Talley’s name in the industry was cemented long before Vogue,
and has continued to be an influence after Vogue. And, besides making a name for himself,
Talley also made a name for Black men in fashion, becoming one of the most famous Black
men in fashion history.

Although his position at and influence on Vogue is what made Talley a household name in
fashion, and well, in general, he is a man of many talents, including the written word and the
illustrated world. In 1984, Talley, along with Richard Bernstein, wrote MegaStar, a book
featuring prominent portraits of celebrities, including a forward by Paloma Picasso, and, in 2003,
he even published his own memoir, entitled A.L.T., A Memoir. Style transcending race is the
overarching theme in Talley’s memoir, and the overarching theme in Talley’s life and endeavors
in fashion as well: no matter what he did, he did it with this concept in mind. He continuously
worked toward making fashion more inclusive and exposing those who opposed inclusion in
fashion.
Talley has transcended many industries under the umbrella of fashion, like advising The Obama
family, specifically Michelle Obama, in 2008, and introducing them to Jason Wu, who Michelle
Obama famously and fundamentally supports outwardly. Talley has worked with and dressed
many acclaimed individuals; notably, Tracy Reese, Rachel Roy, and Jennifer Hudson. He is
acquainted with many, many famed individuals, and close friends with many more from all
industries, genders, and generations. He has served as a judge on America’s Next Top Model,
acted and made an appearance in Sex and the City, held editor’s position at Numero Russia,
and holds a spot on the Board of Trustees at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is
the main plot of the film, The Gospel According to Talley, and, continuing his appearances on
the silver screen, he released The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, in May 2019, which detailed his
own chaotic experiences and relationship with Anna Wintour, and the blanked of racism that
shrouds the fashion industry that he holds so near and dear to his heart.
With his hand successfully in many ventures through time, it is absolutely evident that Talley is
unapologetically himself. With his grandiose stature (he is 6’6”!), in synchronicity with his
fashion choices and outspokenness, Talley surpasses many as he has done many, many
things, very very successfully, and as a result, has gained respect and fame for his
achievements. The young boy from Durham did not seek out to be famous, no, rather, he was
simply interested in fashion, but, his talent and pizzazz and dedication to fashion and his love
for it is the reason we know him and love him and appreciate him today. By: Emily Goldberg