The Legendary André Leon Talley Has Died At 73
The fashion world and beyond are slipping on their most voluminous black Oscar de la Renta cape (Don’t we all have one in our closet?) and their vintage Chanel lace veil over the loss of pioneering fashion icon and true force, André Leon Talley. He was hospitalized near his home in White Plains, NY, and reportedly died of a heart attack yesterday. He was 73.
André Leon Talley’s Instagram page confirmed the news early this morning with a picture of him wearing a magnificent ensemble that is probably similar to the graduation-to-the-afterword robe he wore while being carried into the great beyond.
André Leon Talley was born on October 16, 1948 in Washington, D.C., and was raised by his maternal grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, in the Jim Crow era of North Carolina, as his parents worked in a different state. ALT has praised his grandmother for being the mother figure in his life and providing him with unconditional love. ALT’s love of fashion started at the age of 9 or 10 when he discovered a copy of Vogue at his local library. He was hooked. ALT suffered bullying and sexual abuse as a child, and the world of fashion became his safe space where he could escape into the comforting arms of beauty and glamour. via The Guardian:
“Every Sunday I would walk across the railroad tracks into the affluent part of Durham and buy Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and go back to my grandmother’s house, read my magazines. I was allowed to retreat from the bullying and the sexual abuse into a beautiful world.”
ALT got his BA in French literature from North Carolina Central University, and he got a scholarship to Brown University where he got his Master’s in French literature. He planned to teach French but those plans changed when he got an apprenticeship with THEE Diana Vreeland at the MET. Diana Vreeland, who also became a very important woman in his life, was impressed with ALT and hooked him up with a gig working with Andy Warhol at Interview Magazine. That led to ALT becoming the chief of Women’s Wear Daily’s Paris bureau, which led to a job at W Magazine. And in 1983, André Leon Talley ended up at the magazine that introduced him to high-fashion: Vogue. He worked his way up and in 1988, became Vogue’s Creative Director, the first Black man to hold that position and it made him one of the most powerful Black men in the industry. He was Vogue’s Creative Director for seven years before leaving in 1995. But in 1998, he returned to Vogue as its editor-at-large and left in 2013. During his time at Vogue, ALT pushed for the magazine to feature more Black designers and models. He also pushed for top designers to include Black models in their shows.
After leaving Vogue, ALT released his first memoir, 2003’s A.L.T.: A Memoir, was a fashion consultant to Barack and Michelle Obama, and was the international editor-at-large at Numéro Russia until he left after a year for reasons including Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws. And from 2010 to 2011, ALT was a judge on America’s Next Top Model where he gave us DRECKITUDE!
He was also featured in the documentaries Valentino: The Last Emperor, The September Issue, The First Monday In May, as well as the documentary about his life, The Gospel According To André:
ALT has said that he had romances with both men and women throughout his adult life, but never had an intimate relationship, because of childhood trauma. via The Guardian:
As a young man in New York, he fled from gay bars, horrified at the overt sexuality and preferring instead the chaste fun of dancing with Diana Ross at Studio 54. Instead of looking for sexual connection, he would look for approval from people he admired. And if he felt any emotional lack, he “filled my life with luxury and the pursuit of education”.
Last year, ALT was involved in a legal battle with his former friends over the White Plains mansion he lived in. ALT was sued for $500,000 in unpaid rent and was facing eviction. ALT said that he and his friends entered into a “gentleman’s agreement” where they agreed to buy the house and would transfer the title to him after he paid off the $1 million purchase price.
In 2020, ALT’s second memoir, The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, was released and in it, he wrote about his very complicated relationship with Anna Wintour and that things between them had become iceberg-levels of cold. Anna paid tribute to him today:
Rest in peace, André Leon Talley.