André Leon Talley, Trailblazing Former Vogue Editor-at-Large, Dead at 73
André Leon Talley, who served as an editor-at-large at Vogue in the U.S. and became a pop-culture and fashion icon, died Tuesday at the age of 73. Talley’s death was confirmed to Rolling Stone by his literary agent, David Vigliano. The cause of death has not been disclosed.
“It is with great sadness we announce the passing of André Leon Talley on January 18, 2022, in New York,” a statement on his Instagram read. “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.”
Over the course of six decades, the trailblazing Talley’s notable flair and advocacy for people of color on the runway shaped the conversation about fashion. His stories appeared in a number of esteemed publications, including the PMC-owned Women’s Wear Daily, as well as W and The New York Times.
It was during his time at Vogue, though, when Talley’s influence was arguably the most felt. As the magazine’s first African American creative director, he ushered in a new wave of representation in the fashion title’s pages with a renewed urgency on spotlighting Black designers, models, and stories. Talley would write and produce many of these stories himself, stepping out from behind the scenes to use his larger-than-life personality and six-foot-six-inch frame to generate attention for people and causes close to his heart.
Talley remained at Vogue through much of his career, later moving on to become the American editor-at-large in the Eighties and Nineties, an appointment that further cemented Talley’s influential mark in the fashion world.
News of Talley’s death prompted many of fashion’s biggest names to share tributes to the icon.
“No one saw the world in a more elegant and glamorous way than you did,” designer Diane von Furstenberg wrote of Talley on Instagram. “I have loved you and laughed with you for 45 years.… I will miss your loud screams and your loyal friendship.”
“I adored Andre,” Tyra Banks said in a statement. “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.”
“I am in shock,” wrote Marc Jacobs. “You championed me and you have been my friend since my beginning. Our chats, the moments we shared.… oh my friend. You and your passions were larger than life.”
Singer Mariah Carey, who was close to Talley and even featured him in a music video, called him “fashion’s elegant giant” on Twitter. “Emancipated from the troubles of this world. Land softly and safely my friend into the loving arms of Almighty God,” she wrote.
Born in Washington, D.C., but raised by his grandmother in Durham, N.C., Talley had a tumultuous childhood, revealing in his 2020 memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, that he was sexually abused as a child and struggled to fit in and find his calling in the Jim Crow-era South. But, as Talley recalled, his purpose and passion became immediately clear when he discovered a copy of Vogue during a trip to the library around the age of nine. “[Vogue] was my gateway to the world outside of Durham,” Talley told NPR in a 2018 interview. From there, he said, it was like tumbling down a “rabbit hole” and the momentum — and motivation — could not be stopped.
Moving to New York, Talley became immersed in the art world, aligning with Andy Warhol and working at the artist’s Interview Magazine. He made the move to WWD when he was 28 years old, writing for the trade publication while living in Paris. Talley had studied French literature at North Carolina Central University (one of the country’s leading HBCUs) and later earned a Master of Arts degree in French literature at Brown University; it was a childhood dream for him to live and work in the City of Light.
It was in Paris where Talley would form some of the most influential relationships of his career, working with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, and Karl Lagerfeld — the latter of whom Talley remained close to until the Chanel designer’s death in 2019.
Talley loved Paris and the city loved him back. Last April, Talley was honored with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres — the French Order of Arts and Letters.
After he left WWD, former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, who helmed the venerable magazine from 1962 through 1971, took Talley under her wing. When they met, Vreeland was the director of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Talley served as her assistant for numerous exhibitions.
As his career flourished, Talley moved on to writing for several publications before eventually landing at Vogue. He served as fashion news director from 1983 through 1987 before becoming the magazine’s first African American creative director in 1988. In 1995, Talley’s ascent to ruling the runway landed him as an editor-at-large, where he worked alongside Anna Wintour.
Though he officially left the editor-at-large position in 2013, Talley continued to be a valuable asset to Vogue and the fashion world at large, contributing to podcasts and more.
In later years, he offered his artistic vision to others, beyond the glitz and glamor of the runway, serving as a stylist for the Obamas during Barack Obama’s presidency and as a judge for America’s Top Model. His life was later the subject of a documentary film, The Gospel According to Andre, which was released in 2018.
Still, Talley’s time at Vogue remains his most memorable role. While he admitted that his relationship with Wintour was frayed by the time he departed the magazine — he wrote in his memoir that Wintour abandoned him after he was “no longer of value to her” — he also added that he was hopeful that they would reconcile.
“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; and, not forgetting, the multitude of colleagues over the years who were consistently buoyed by every new discovery of André’s, which he would discuss loudly, and volubly — no one could make people more excited about the most seemingly insignificant fashion details than him,” Wintour said in a statement.
“He was magnificent and erudite and wickedly funny — mercurial, too,” she added. “Like many decades-long relationships, there were complicated moments, but all I want to remember today, all I care about, is the brilliant and compassionate man who was a generous and loving friend to me and to my family for many, many years, and who we will all miss so much.”
Even in his final years, Talley kept up the optimism and determination that defined and carried him through so many of the projects in his career. As he wrote in his memoir, “I do believe there’s a heaven. I do believe that God has given me the resilience and the survival skills to withstand the chiffon trenches.”
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