André Leon Talley, fashion industry icon and former creative director of Vogue, dead at 73
Talley's literary agent David Vigliano confirmed Talley's death to USA TODAY late Tuesday. Additional details were not immediately available.
Talley's Instagram account also issued confirmation early Wednesday, noting that over five decades the "international icon was a close confidant of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Paloma Picasso and he had a penchant for discovering, nurturing and celebrating young designers."
Talley began at Vogue in 1983, and in 1988 was named the fashion bible's creative director, ultimately also serving as editor-at-large. Throughout his career, the 6-foot-6 fashion journalist, whose towering presence sitting front-row of fashion shows was as iconic as his flowing robes, advocated for diversity in the fashion industry, encouraging top designers to include more Black models in their shows as he helped shape Vogue at large.
In a 2013 Vanity Fair spread titled “The Eyeful Tower,” Talley was described as “perhaps the industry’s most important link to the past.” Designer Tom Ford told the magazine Talley was “one of the last great fashion editors who has an incredible sense of fashion history. … He can see through everything you do to the original reference, predict what was on your inspiration board.”
Talley wrote two memoirs, "A.L.T.: A Memoir" in 2003 and "The Chiffon Trenches" in 2020, served as a judge over four seasons of "America's Next Top Model" and was the center of the 2017 documentary, "The Gospel According to André."
In "Chiffon Trenches," Talley opened up about how his time in fashion, sexual abuse and race impacted his life, career and friendships.
"I can only write this book based on who I am and where I came from, this very humble beginning in a tobacco town of Durham, North Carolina," the ex-fashion editor told Essence at the time.
Talley was the first Black person to occupy his position at Vogue, and in his 2020 memoir, he described what he saw as his role in shaping Vogue, and, by extension, the fashion industry as a whole.
"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. I sounded no bullhorn over diversity but nurtured it where I could," he wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post in 2019.
One of his proudest moments, he told the Post, was his 2009 Vogue cover story of then-first lady Michelle Obama.
Though he described his relationship with Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour as fractured in his 2020 memoir, later he would defend her, crediting Wintour, late fashion editor Diana Vreeland and Andy Warhol with shaping his career.
"This is not a vengeful ... tell-all," Talley told Vulture in May 2020. "I will not criticize her. My book is an epistle to everyone that I love. It’s a love letter to Anna Wintour. I love her deeply."
Wintour echoed those sentiments in Vogue's obituary published Wednesday.
“The loss of Andre is felt by so many of us today," she said. “Yet it’s the loss of Andre 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."
Talley has also been considered an LGBTQ icon, making Out magazine's "The Power 50" in 2007, though he declined to define his sexuality, calling himself "fluid" in a 2018 interview with Wendy Williams.
Talley told Essence he never shied away from his race in his life and career, despite the lack of diversity in the fashion world.
"I never separated from my Blackness,” he said. “My Blackness is what made me.”
Talley served as Vogue's editor-at-large until 2013, when he left to pursue a new job as editor in chief of Russian style magazine Numero Russia. Talley was in the role for a year.
He told Women's Wear Daily that leaving Vogue was a "tough decision," though Wintour "was very sympathetic and understood."
"I felt I needed more financial security as I go in my twilight age, a little bit more cash for mortgages and as I go into retirement," he said. "I took the job because I love Russia and the salary was something fabulous. Money isn't everything but it is when you start thinking about putting money away for your retirement days."
Talley also contributed to Air Mail, the weekly newsletter co-edited by Graydon Carter, since its inception in 2019. In his most recent Air Mail article, published in October, Talley reviewed Patrick Hourcade’s memoir about late Chanel creative director Karl Largerfeld.
Designer Diane von Furstenberg mourned Talley in an Instagram tribute Tuesday, writing that "no one saw the world in a more elegant and glamorous way."
Of all the elements of a person’s apparel, Talley considered shoes to be most important.
“You can tell everything about a person by what he puts on his feet,” Talley told the Associated Press.
“If it’s a man and you can see the reflection of his face on the top of his black shoes, it means they’ve been polished to perfection. … If it’s a woman and she’s wearing shoes that hurt … well, shoes that hurt are very fashionable!”
Contributing: Rasha Ali, USA TODAY; Associated Press