Fashion Icon André Leon Talley Reflects on His Career in a Deeply Personal Memoir

ShelCopeland
·3 mins read
Photo credit: Taylor Hill - Getty Images
Photo credit: Taylor Hill - Getty Images

From Oprah Magazine

  • In May, André Leon Talley released his new memoir, which he describes as "My story in my own words."

  • His decades-long career included becoming creative director and editor-at-large of American Vogue for many years.

  • Ahead of fashion week, Talley joined Oprah Magazine and Hearst Black Culture for a virtual chat to discuss his book.

“I knew every page of Vogue before I ever met anyone at Vogue,” André Leon Talley told a group of editors in a virtual conversation led by Hearst Black Culture, an employee affinity group at Oprah Magazine’s parent company.

Since the release of his bestselling memoir The Chiffon Trenches in May, Talley, now 71, has been reflecting on his career, which included rising to become Vogue's creative director and then editor-at-large for decades, among many other notable accomplishments in the fashion industry. “As a teenager I read Vogue as opposed to aspiring to being on the marching band, or to be on the basketball team, an to go to the football games. I aspired to reading Vogue not just for the fashion, but the literary excellence.”

During the Zoom discussion, held September 17, Talley also opened up on his introduction to the fashion world during what he described as a humble but faith-filled upbringing. “I knew that there was beauty and style—it was in the Black culture. And I did talk about it, but I was surrounded by it. I was nurtured by it,” he said.

By the time his foot was in the door at Vogue, Talley says his success came from one simple lesson: “When you’re young, you have to listen, and you learn.” Then, once you’re recognized—as he was then by previous Vogue Editor-in-Chief Diana Vreeland—you can offer your input. “Mrs. Vreeland thought that I had such a knowledge of fashion, but my knowledge only came from reading and doing my homework.” The work, he said, is much easier now, with the help of technology that can make access so much easier for people to learn and innovate.

His appointment to creative director at American Vogue in 1988, which was under the early leadership of Anna Wintour, was a landmark position for him as a Black man, but Talley insists he was prepared and on level ground during that time, despite his race. “I wasn’t pressured at all. I didn’t have to think about my being Black, I didn’t go around thinking I’m Black, I’m fabulous, I’m a unique person, I’ve arrived at a pinnacle of my career.”

“There was no pressure on me to exude Blackness, I was just exuding smart,” he added on.

Now in a different time, when the nation is confronted with a racial reckoning and a global pandemic, Talley says he believes that at least the fashion industry is headed toward a more inclusive path. He has already seen some evidence suggesting so, specifically hailing the work of Ghanaian born Edward Enninful, who is editor-in-chief of British Vogue.

“The Black mind, out of his own marginalization and perhaps inequality and racial profiling, believes and respects everything in life. Every creed, every age, no age shaming, no body shaming,” Talley added. “And it makes a difference. It upholds humanity.”

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