André Leon Talley, Vogue magazine’s former editor-in-large and creative director, is my global fashion hero.
Talley weathered the storms of being a unique, tall, and a fashionably empowered African American man in the post Jim Crow South era, and has inspired my life in several ways. I pursued a fashion career because of the glossy fashion spreads I perused in Vogue magazine during Talley’s tenure as Vogue’s fashion news director in the early 1980s, then as creative director through the mid-1990s, and finally as editor-in-large from 1998 to 2013. I was enraptured by the elevated aesthetic, the luxury wears, the epitome of beauty splashed across the pages, and taken aback by the many lifestyle-branded products that accessorized the “good life” I was exposed to in Vogue.
Most people grow attached to their hero because they admire the person’s courage, achievements and superhuman qualities. Talley is my fashion hero because he not only survived the fast pace of the fashion industry, but he also delivered creative excellence every day in a culture that has not been friendly to diversity. Talley, who was born in Washington, D.C., also survived being bullied in his youth for being exceptionally different in Durham, N.C. I am driven to succeed because of him.
Talley was recently interviewed in D.C. by Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer-Prize winning former fashion editor, author, and now fashion critic for The Washington Post. Givhan, an exceptional African-American woman, delved into inspiring fashion and culture topics with Talley for “A New Line,” her live videotaped series for the Post. Talley’s recollection of one of his crowning achievements touched the hearts of many audience members.
“I was very proud to do the first Michelle Obama cover. That was very political,” shared Talley. “That was the highest achievement in my Vogue life. When Anna (Wintour) gave me that assignment, I knew she thought a lot about me.”
Talley has had many glorious years of bringing fashion to life. Amongst his many accolades, Talley volunteered and worked for the legendary former editor of Vogue Magazine, Diana Vreeland, in 1974 on her second exhibit for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, titled “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design.” Talley also worked for John Fairchild, then publisher and editor-in-chief of Women’s Wear Daily magazine.
Both Vreeland and Fairchild heavily influenced Talley’s world while growing up in Durham. Talley told Givhan that he crossed the railroad tracks through Duke University’s campus twice a month to purchase Vogue and the New York Times from a magazine shop, not even aware it was known as “the White side of town.”
Talley is also my hero because of his intelligence, perseverance and humility. He graduated from North Carolina Central University, having earned a Bachelor of Arts in French Literature in 1970. He also earned a Master of Arts degree in French Studies from Brown University in 1973. In his interview with the Post, Talley shared more passionate reflections on his exodus from North Carolina to New York with Givhan,
“I’m just a humble Black man from the South,” shared Talley. “I had a hungering for the life I saw in Vogue. And I never calculated that I am on a path, a trajectory, to get to Vogue, to get to Women’s Wear Daily. It just happened for me. And I’ll tell you why it happened for me, because knowledge is power, and I did my homework.”
Talley the author of several books including “Little Black Dress,” “Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style,” and “A.L.T.: A Memoir,” among others. Talley has mentored countless designers and models, yet told me exclusively in a brief interview, “I’ll never design [a collection].”
Accomplished and full of spirit, Talley launched his latest project this April, a live one-hour talk show entitled “Full Length,” on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM satellite radio channel Radio Andy. Talley’s talk show will dish on all things fashion and pop culture, and spotlight celebrity guests and friends.
We wish him the very best in all roads to the fabulous. Blessings, Mr. Talley.