Andre Leon Talley

The impact André Leon Talley has had on the industry is immeasurable. The proof is in the outpour following the news of his death late last night from friends, family, peers, and people who may have never met him yet felt his powerful force and influence in their lives. For me, growing up in southern Virginia, a 3-hour car ride away from ALT’s hometown of Durham, North Carolina, his career and life fascinated me. A Black man from a small town in the south, the first to hold his position at Vogue and have influence to pave the way for those like myself to look up to. He called fashion legends like Marc Jacobs and Diane Von Furstenberg friends and had the opportunity of interviewing designers of coveted fashion houses across the world’s fashion capitals. He was not merely an inspiration but a pioneer in opening these doors for others to follow. 

Fashion as a career was and in some cases still is farfetched from reality in the south. I spent many of my high school days absorbing Andre Leon Talley’s prolific zeitgeist of encyclopedic fashion knowledge. From his vast archive of runway interviews, documentaries, and literature reads, I fell in love with fashion, more profound than the glitz and glam most youth dream of but as a proper art form and a world I found comfort in. That doesn’t go without saying his glorious signature caftans gave major style inspirations for my 16-year-old self. In his 2017 biopic “The Gospel According to André Leon Talley,” he says, “clothes are my security blanket, and my outfits are my armor against the world of the chiffon trenches.” As a youth deciding on my path in life, I would rewind and play these words on repeat, and it wasn’t until then I felt my calling was fashion despite the nontraditional route it would be from my peers.

Years following, After moving to New York City for college and fashion—more so the latter. Much like André Leon Talley, I started with an unpaid internship as soon as I arrived. I would volunteer my time to get exposure in the industry as much as possible, some nights helping set up for events instead of studying for an exam the next morning. Being a hands-on learner, I craved to learn everything I could about fashion by actually doing it rather than sitting in a classroom hearing about it. I would practice my reporting skills by watching the shows and writing my own reviews in Microsoft Word. Although the “coverage” didn’t go any further than my personal files, It served as my own personal experience to grow and find my own voice as a writer. 

It wasn’t until 2019 that I had the opportunity to meet the “pharaoh of fabulosity,” as many called him. André Leon Talley was a guest on a segment highlighting emerging designers on “The Tamron Hall Show” that I attended. Following the show, I was introduced to the legend where I naturally addressed him as “Mr. Talley,” (southern formality, you can take the boy out the south but not the south out the boy). He quickly established I was a fellow southern and invited me to tag along for lunch with the designers and himself. Naturally, in the face of one of my most significant influences in life, I was beyond nervous to even speak. As we waited for the table.,standing at 6-feet-6 inches tall, ALT approached me and said, “So tell me about you” I went on to tell him about my role at the time as one of the designer’s publicists, and he politely interrupts me and says “no, tell me about you.” I then opened up about my love for editorial , freelance writing on the side, and wanting to commit to my dream as a writer fully, and his response was, “do it, I can see it in you—you’re off to a great track you just have to do it.”

My nervousness faded after witnessing one of the most important editors in fashion epitomize nothing but genuine kindness and making everyone in the room feel included. I still recall the entire conversation the rest of the night as if it were yesterday—from his chowder being a tad too cold to the wisdom he bestowed on his ups and downs experienced in the industry and playful interactions with one of the designer’s babies. Andre Leon Talley filled up the room with his hardy laugh and big grin that night to the point it still echoes in my ears when I think of the visionary.

My experiences with André Leon Talley are not unique; he shed his joy and fab humor with all of those he has come in contact with. He famously said, “I love people – it is not the fashion, it is the people in fashion I love.” An icon in the fashion world’s pedigree, the loss of André Leon Talley is eminent. Still, his immeasurable legacy will live on in the many generations he inspired and the changes witnesses in the industry. Once ATL was the only Black editor you would see sitting front row at fashion week, now thanks to his pioneering work many Black editors have the chance to have their seat in the front row. When discussing his legacy, he notes, “I’d like to be remembered as someone who made a difference in the lives of young people – that I nurtured someone and taught them to pursue their dreams and their careers, to leave a legacy.” For me and so many more, we would not have a career in fashion without you. You will be missed, Mr. Talley.