André Leon Talley, known for being Vogue’s first Black creative director, author, journalist and a fashion icon, has passed away. Talley died due to an unknown illness at a hospital in White Plains, New York, TMZ reported. Talley was 73-years-old. His death was confirmed on his Instagram page in a post that also reflected about his influence and accomplishments during his nearly five-decade career.
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 Oct. 16, 1948 in Washington D.C but was raised in Durham, North Carolina by his grandmother Bennie Frances Davis. It was his grandmother who helped Talley discover his love for fashion. During his time at the library as a child, he discovered Vogue and his adoration for the publication began.
In 1970, he graduated from North Carolina Central University with a bachelor of arts degree in French literature. In 1972, he attended Brown University after being offered a scholarship and obtained a master’s degree in French literature. He began his career as an assistant at Andy Warhol’s Factory and then went on to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then as a fashion journalist at The New York Times. He also worked as the Paris bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily. In 1983, he began his career at Vogue as their fashion news director. In 1988, he became their first Black male creative director.
During his career he built relationships with fashion’s finest Black models, designers and the elite. In videos and photos from his time at the top, he has escorted, traveled with, shared heartfelt conversations and partied with Naomi Campbell, Diana Ross, Iman, Tyra Banks, Rihanna, Grace Jones, Mariah Carey, Diddy and many more. It was Talley who called for the inclusion of more Black models in the publication, known as the fashion bible, and for them to be included in high fashion runway shows as well.
“I quietly worked to bring more of that newness into the room: fashion editorials featuring young black models Naomi Campbell and Veronica Webb; a photo feature on the flamboyant ball culture of New York’s queer people of color, members of the legendary House of LaBeija striking dance poses in broad daylight,” he wrote in The Washington Post in 2019. I sounded no bullhorn over diversity but nurtured it where I could.”
In 2009, he penned Vogue’s cover story about First Lady Michelle Obama, one of his proudest moments and another victory for the celebrated editor whose mission was to usher Black women to the forefront. He told the Post when Anna Wintour said he would do the story, it was “a very important moment in our relationship and one of the most important assignments” and shared with Entertainment Tonight that he’d wished that his grandmother, who raised him during the Jim Crow Era, had lived to read it. He was also the Obama family’s fashion advisor.
The younger generations always approached Talley with respect and hung on his every honorable word.
After leaving Vogue in 1995, he moved to Paris and worked at W Magazine. In 1998, he returned to Vogue as an editor-in-large as wrote the monthly Style Fax column. He had also been published in Vanity Fair, Interview Magazine and was the editor-in-chief of Numéro Russia. Talley retired from Vogue in 2014. He went on to teach remote classes at Parsons School of Design in Paris. He was also a judge on America’s Next Top Model for four cycles.
After his death, social media became flooded with tributes citing how much of a larger than life figure he was, his incredible knowledge of fashion history and his impressive accomplishments, resilience and legacy.