ANDRE LEON TALLEY, born on this date, 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, caftans, 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 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 Magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, W 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. For that he cn be forgiven. I suppose.
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. In the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, the character Nigel Kipling portrayed by Stanley Tucci is widely believed to be a depiction of Talley.
Through the student connections he made in Providence, Rhode Island, he apprenticed, unpaid, for Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. So impressed by his skills, the Vogue editor connected Talley up with a job at Andy Warhol’s Factory and Interview magazine for $50 a week. He went on to work at Women’s Wear Daily, becoming its Paris bureau chief, and W, from 1975 through 1980. He also worked for The New York Times and other publications before finally landing at Vogue, where he worked as the fashion news director from 1983 to 1987 and then as first African American male creative director from 1988 to 1995. It has been said that he was often the first and the only black man in the room.
He pushed top designers to have 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 and moved to Paris in 1995 to work for W, and served as contributing editor at Vogue. In 1998, he returned to Vogue as the editor-at-large until his departure in 2013 to pursue another editorial venture.
In 2003, he authored an autobiography titled 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, introducing Michelle Obama to the Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu, from whom she bought several dresses, including her inaugural gown. Talley’s later pairings have been with designers Tracy Reese, Rachel Roy, and singer-actress Jennifer Hudson.
n 2007, Talley was ranked 45th in Out magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America”. During a May 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.” He repeatedly said he “learned everything about fashion and style and taste from his grandmother, in her house.”
In the mid-2000s, Anna Wintour initiated an intervention to get Talley to lose weight. He eventually lost a great deal of weight and continued at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in the late 2010s.
In his later years Talley would regularly don capes and Kaftans which became his signature fashion items. Many of these long flowing vestments were custom-made for him by his famous designer friends including Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino, and Dapper Dan.
For Talley, fashion was both inspiration and disguise, camouflage against the racist barbs he experienced, such as being referred to as “Queen Kong.” It was only in hindsight, he wrote, that he realized “the blinders I had to keep on in order to survive.”
He died from complications of a heart attack and COVID-19 at a hospital in White Plains on January 18, 2022, at the age of 73.