The Root is sad to report that legendary fashion figure and former Vogue creative director André Leon Talley has died at 73.
Per the New York Times, Talley’s passing was confirmed by his friend Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. An official statement sharing the heartbreaking news was also posted to Talley’s Instagram page late Tuesday night.
“It is with great sadness we announce the passing of André Leon Talley on January 18, 2022 in New York,” the statement began. “Mr. Talley was the larger-than-life, longtime creative director at Vogue during its rise to dominance as the world’s fashion bible. Over the past five decades as an international icon was a close confidant of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Paloma Picasso, Diane von Furstenberg, Bethann Hardison, Manolo Blahnik, and he had a penchant for discovering, nurturing and celebrating young designers.”
His byline appeared in Vanity Fair, HG, Interview, Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily and he was the editor of Numero Russia. Mr. Talley wrote several books, including Valentino, A.L.T.: A Memoir, A.L.T. 365+ and Little Black Dress for Assouline, and contributed to Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table and Cartier Panthère. He was the subject of the documentary The Gospel According to André and his recent memoir, The Chiffon Trenches became a New York Times Best Seller. In 2014, he was named artistic director of Zappos Couture, and he has been on the Board of Trustees of Savannah College of Art and Design since 2000. Mr. Talley was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic in 2020 and the North Carolina Governor’s award for literature in 2021. He was a long-standing member of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Talley was born on October 16, 1948, in Washington D.C. Raised by his frequent church-going grandmother in the segregated South, Talley would find solace in the fashion and flair of Vogue magazines growing up and would later go on to receive a bachelor’s degree in French Studies at North Carolina Central University and a master’s from Brown University, as well. But it wouldn’t be until a chance meeting with then-Vogue editor Carrie Donovan, who convinced him to move to New York in 1974, that Talley’s ascent into the fashion world would begin.
More from CNN on Talley’s over 40-year career:
Talley arrived in New York in 1974, and found himself quickly at the frenzied intersection of fashion and art, working and mingling with the likes of Halston, Karl Lagerfeld and Andy Warhol.
After a stint in Paris with Women’s Wear Daily, Talley joined Vogue in 1983 as news director. He was promoted to creative director in 1988 and later served as editor-at-large. Except for a period with W magazine in Paris, he remained a fixture at Vogue for nearly four decades.
At 6-foot-6 and with a booming voice, Talley was a towering figure in every sense. He was often seen sitting in the front row of elite fashion shows alongside editor-in-chief Anne Wintour, and his influence over fashion continued long after his departure from Vogue in 2013.
Not one to ever shy away from giving his opinion and speaking out, Talley, who stood at six-foot-six and had an affinity for the dramatic—often incorporating capes and caftans—was instrumental in bringing Black models and designers to the forefront. His penchant for doing so served him well as he would later go on to style Michelle Obama, his mentor Naomi Campbell, and make history as the first Black creative director at Vogue magazine.
In an interview for Time Magazine in 2020, while promoting his book, The Chiffon Trenches, Talley was transparent about racism in the fashion world and the injustices he faced in his career:
“In my daily life, when I was at the apogee of my career, my ethnic color did not affect who I was. What affected me was the injustices, the racist statements that were made about me. I handled it by resigning from Women’s Wear Daily, because I had my own dignity. I am not made by the fashion world. I am made by coming up in the South in my grandmother’s home with great values of tradition, passion, education, religion and being properly decent. So when I confronted these moments of racism, I controlled my narrative by making choices. This is what people do to black men; they criminalize their very existence and they dehumanize them, even in the highest, loftiest world of fashion. But I did not become victimized. I simply soldiered on and did my work.”
Upon hearing the news, Talley’s longtime friend and fellow fashion icon, Diane Von Furstenberg, paid tribute to him in a post on social media, writing:
“Goodbye, darling André… no one saw the world in a more elegant and glamorous way than you did… no one was more soulful and grander than you were…the world will be less joyful now...I have loved you and laughed with you for 45 years…. I will miss your loud screams and your loyal friendship…I love you soooo much.”
Longtime Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, with whom Talley had a complex friendship, also spoke out following the news of his passing in a statement:
“The loss of Andre is felt by so many of us today: the designers he enthusiastically cheered on every season, and who loved him for it; the generations he inspired to work in the industry, seeing a figure who broke boundaries while never forgetting where he started from; those who knew fashion, and Vogue, simply because of him; and, not forgetting, the colleagues over the years who were consistently buoyed along by every new discovery of André’s, which he would discuss loudly, and volubly. No one could make people more excited about the most seemingly insignificant fashion details than him. Even his emails were a highly anticipated event, something we all looked forward to. Yet it’s the loss of André as my colleague and friend that I think of now; it’s immeasurable. He was magnificent and erudite and wickedly funny—mercurial, too. Like many decades-long relationships, there were complicated moments, but all I want to remember today, all I care about, is the brilliant and compassionate man who was a generous and loving friend to me and to my family for many, many years, and who we will all miss so much.”
The Root sends its condolences to the family and friends of André Leon Talley. May he rest in peace beautifully.