André Leon Talley passed away on January 18 from a heart attack due to COVID-19 complications. The seminal, groundbreaking Vogue editor was only 73-years-old when he passed away in White Plains, NY, according to The Cut.
Talley was no stranger to controversy, and made headlines when he detailed how his relationship with Vogue capo Anna Wintour became fractured in his recent memoir, “The Chiffon Diaries.”
Perhaps that’s why the magazine was the last to report on his passing — a fact which did not go unnoticed by critics.
Regardless of whether Vogue ever fully acknowledges the contributions of André Leon Talley, his impact on the fashion world cannot be overstated. More than just the extravagant capes, the friends in the fashion world, and the larger-than-life way he chose to live, he was a trailblazer who paved the way for Black women — and, especially, Black celebrity women — to see their faces in Vogue in particular, and in high fashion in general. He didn’t just deserve a seat at the table — he was the table, and everybody ate when he set it.
As the world continues to mourn his passing, let’s take a look back at the life and times of André Leon Talley.
Born in 1948 in Washington, D.C., André Leon Talley was raised in the “Jim Crow South” by his grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, who was a housekeeper at Duke University. In 1970, he graduated with a degree in French Literature from historically Black North Carolina Central University before winning a scholarship to Brown University, where he got his Master of Arts in French Literature. His master’s thesis was about the impact of Black women on Charles Baudelaire.
After college, he worked as an unpaid intern for Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vreeland subsequently recommended him for a job at Interview Magazine, which had Andy Warhol at the helm. Talley took the job for $50/week.
He then went on to Women’s Wear Daily, W, and The New York Times, before finally landing at Vogue in 1983, according to Yahoo.
André Leon Talley will forever be known for the impact he had on Vogue. From 1983 until his final departure from the magazine in 2013, his impact on the magazine was immeasurable. He was the one who convinced Anna Wintour to start integrating more celebrity content into the magazine, and according to People, he was an unparalleled fashion historian.
“Our interview became a fashion history lesson, as it often did. He spoke about one of the most famous quotes in all of fashion history — the seminal ‘We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a that Linda Evangelista said to Vogue in 1990. And, André, of course, had a way to contextualize it,” said Jason Sheeler, People’s Deputy West Coast Editor. “He told me, ‘Today, it would be very relevant for a woman to say that for proper equity, you know? It would not be considered like a snobbish, elitist, thing. It would be considered, a person of value speaking out for her rights.’”
André Leon Talley is best known for championing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in fashion. Under his tutelage, both Beyoncé and Rihanna got Vogue covers. Additionally, First Lady Michelle Obama got her first Vogue feature — and for a time, Talley served as the stylist for both the First Lady and President Barack Obama, according to The New York Times.
In addition to his career at Vogue, André Leon Talley was the author of three highly successful books. His memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” made the New York Times Best Seller list. He also wrote “The Gospel According to André” and co-authored “Mega-Star” with Richard Bernstein.