By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D
Andre Léon Talley, a trailblazing figure in fashion journalism has died. Talley was born in Washington, DC and raised by his grandmother Bennie Frances Davis in Durham, NC.
According to his memoir A.L.T.: A Memoir, Talley’s grandmother worked as a housekeeper for Duke University. To escape the oppressive climate of the segregated American South and the sexual abuse and bullying he experienced as a child, Talley would escape into the pages of Vogue which he would purchase on the “white” side of town. Coupled with the fashion influences of the Black church, Talley would develop his signature style as he grew into an adult. Talley graduated from Hillside High School in 1966 and North Carolina Central University, an HBCU, where he majored in French literature in 1970. Talley also earned a M.A. degree from Brown University and moved to New York for an apprenticeship at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
Introduced to trailblazing fashion editor Diana Vreeland by a classmate, Talley would meet Andy Warhol, which is how he began work at Interview Magazine. Talley also worked for Women’s Wear Daily as their Paris Bureau Chief and briefly at the New York Times, before landing at American Vogue, where his career and status as a pioneering and influential fashion journalist was cemented. Talley would work closely with legendary editor Anna Wintour, serving as Creative Director and editor-at-large for the iconic publication.
A force, Talley wrote two memoirs (A.L.T. and The Chiffon Trenches – May 2020), books on fashion and played a major role in advancing the careers and opportunities for African American models and photographers.
Talley also worked closely with Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Diane Von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs.
Talley starred as a judge on America’s Next Top Model and wrote an influential 2018 op-ed for the Washington Post entitled, “The Historic Blackness of Tyler Mitchell and Beyoncé’s Vogue Cover.” At the time of his death, Talley had been involved in a protracted legal battle over a home he had rented since 2004 from George Malkemus, the former CEO of Manolo Blahnik and his partner.
Vogue is reporting Talley died of a heart attack. He was 73.