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André Leon Talley, former Vogue editor, and fashion industry icon dies at 73


Towering former creative director and larger-than-life Vogue magazine editor, André Leon Talley, has died. By the time he died Wednesday at 73, Talley had been working in fashion for nearly 47 years. He worked with Andy Warhol, became Vogue’s first Black creative director, styled Michelle Obama, wrote three books, and starred in a documentary about his life, among other things. 

At 6-feet-6 inches tall, Talley cut an imposing figure wherever he went, with his stature, his considerable influence on the fashion world, and his bold looks. Talley enjoyed friends in design studios from New York to Paris—Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Diane von Furstenberg, Karl Lagerfeld, and many more. He was an influential fashion journalist who worked at Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue and was a regular in the front row of fashion shows in New York and Europe. Talley was also a familiar figure to TV audiences, serving as a judge on “America’s Top Model” and appearing on “Sex and the City” and “Empire.” 

In his 2003 memoir, “A.L.T.: A Memoir,” Talley focused on two of the most important women in his life: his maternal grandmother, Bennie Frances Davis, and the late fashion editor Diana Vreeland.

“Bennie Frances Davis may have looked like a typical, African American domestic worker to many of the people who saw her on an ordinary day, but I, who could see her soul, could also see her secret: that even while she wore a hair net and work clothes to scrub toilets and floors, she wore an invisible diadem,” he wrote.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1948, Talley was raised by his grandmother, a cleaning woman at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, during Jim Crow. His relationship with Vogue started at Duke. As a youth, he would walk to the campus to read the magazine.

Talley worked assorted jobs before arriving in New York in the 1970s. He would soon meet Diana Vreeland and got his start in fashion with her as an unpaid apprenticeship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The two struck up a friendship that lasted until her death in 1989.

From the Met, Talley went on to work at Andy Warhol’s Interview, Women’s Wear Daily, and the New York Times, before taking the fashion news director job at Vogue in 1983. Anna Wintour named him creative director in 1988 and aside from a three-year run when he contributed to W magazine from Paris, he continued to work at Vogue until 2013. He was the first Black man to hold his position at Vogue, and oftentimes he was the only Black person in the front row at fashion shows. 

Designer Diane von Furstenberg praised Talley on Instagram, writing: “no one saw the world in a more glamorous way than you did … no one was grander and more soulful than you were.”

In a 2013 Vanity Fair spread titled “The Eyeful Tower,” Talley was described as “perhaps the industry’s most important link to the past.” Designer Tom Ford told the magazine Talley was “one of the last great fashion editors who has an incredible sense of fashion history. … He can see through everything you do to the original reference, and predict what was on your inspiration board.”

Of all the elements of a person’s apparel, Talley considered shoes to be most important. “You can tell everything about a person by what he puts on his feet,” Talley once told the AP.


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