Fashion Journalist André Leon Talley Dead at 73

January 20, 2022
Courtesy: KUBA DABROWSKI / WWD

Fashion journalist, New York Times bestselling author and former Vogue creative director and editor at large André Leon Talley died Tuesday at the age of 73, TAA PR has confirmed.

Westchester County authorities did not reveal the cause of death, although some media outlets reported it as a heart attack. Representatives at White Plains Hospital said they were unable to comment for privacy reasons.

Services for Talley have not yet been revealed.

A trailblazer for 40-plus years in an industry that had very little diversity in its upper echelons, Talley worked at WWD, Interview, Vanity Fair, House & Garden and Vogue, in between dancing at Studio 54, being mentored by Diana Vreeland, interviewing Rihanna on the Met Gala red carpet and Michelle Obama for the pages of Vogue. With his baritone voice, vibrant caftans and unmistakable presence, Talley was a forthright personality in an industry filled with notable forces. His decades-long career in fashion also included volunteering at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and a run at Andy Warhol’s Factory. Along the way, by his own account, he dealt with ageism, racism and weight discrimination.

Prior to the release of his 2020 memoir “The Chiffon Trenches,” Talley told WWD, “People have done things to me that I have forgiven them for. There are things in the book that you can’t imagine — the racism, everything. You don’t even understand how much I’ve gone through.…”

He was best known for his time at Vogue, where he was fashion director between 1983 and 1987, before becoming its creative director and later an editor at large.

Courtesy: FAIRCHILD ARCHIVE / PENSKE MEDIA

A front row fixture known for his flamboyant style and storytelling, Talley was a close confidante of Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, Marc Jacobs and many other legendary designers, and he provided support and a sounding board to up-and-comers on their first runway collections, including Rodarte, Sergio Hudson, LaQuan Smith and Zac Posen. With his eye for talent, Talley was always in search of the next generation of rising stars.

Upon being notified as a recipient of the de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France in April 2021, Talley said, “Of all the education and experiences that I have had in this world, I think this represents a great deal to my race and my people. I hope that it will make people, who look like me, really proud. I am very proud to be an African American man, who grew up in the Jim Crow South to receive this prestigious honor from the Republic of France.”

Describing himself at that time as someone who has appreciated the relevancy of France, Talley said that included “the culture, the history and every aspect of refinement, style, architecture, the gardens, fashion haute cuisine, Versailles, the churches, the history — even its bad history — its revolution and the guillotine.”

Talley’s all-encompassing way of looking at life — the good and the bad — resonated with a wide range of people in and out of fashion. In his memoir, Talley detailed some of the less glamorous aspects of his life, including sexual abuse, his weight struggles and ageism. After an advance copy leaked to the media, consumers’ interest in the book was so strong that the publisher Ballantine moved up the release date from September to May, and greenlighted a second run before it was out.

As a sign of the duality of Talley’s life, he dedicated the book to Lee Radziwill and Calvin O. Betts, his pastor at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, where he often attended weekly services. “When I sit back and look at the riches of my life, I just wanted to share some of the great moments of my life, as well as the struggles,” he said of the book.

In May 2020, when Talley learned that he had landed on The New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction, he told WWD that he was thrilled. But what he really wanted to discuss in an interview was “the horror” that had happened in Minneapolis, referring to the police murder of George Floyd. “This is just systematic of the world that we live in. The video — I have no words,” he said at that time.

Memories of the icon started to pour in Tuesday night.

Courtesy: STEVE EICHNER / WWD

“I have 45 years of memories of André from his working for Interview and Andy Warhol to working at WWD and WWD in Paris,” said Diane von Furstenberg. “I remember him wearing a cashmere robe when people wore black tie. We used to have tea at the Plaza Athénée in Paris, and he used to pretend he was an African king. We went to the inauguration for [Barack] Obama together and Nancy Pelosi gave us the best seats in the house. He introduced me to SCAD and he has a gallery in his name at SCAD [Savannah College of Art & Design]. Naomi [Campbell] took him to Algeria just before COVID-19 and he loved it. He had so many friends. He was truly bigger than life.”


Ralph Lauren said Wednesday, “Losing André is a great personal loss, but an even greater loss to the world of fashion that he loved, influenced, and celebrated all his life. Seeing him for so many years on the front row of my shows always gave me a feeling of confidence and optimism. Andre was a man of intelligence and integrity with great instincts for the authenticity of real style. He was committed to stand up for what he believed in not only in his work, but in the challenging world he lived in. You could not miss André Leon Talley. He was a man larger-than-life in stature and personality, but it was his huge heart and generous humanity that touched us all and leaves us wanting more.”

Donna Karan told WWD Tuesday night, “He was larger than life. I always looked up to him. He loved fashion and we all loved him so. His fashion was beyond the clothes – the people, his presence, his heart, his laughter. He was fashion to the world like a big daddy. He will always be here by our sides watching over us all. We love you, André.”

Norma Kamali said she knew André for many years, and a quote just isn’t enough because his impact on fashion has been so powerful.

“Fashion to André was an expression of life itself. I remember when he came to New York, I remember being a reference for André for his hire at WWD. I knew he was going to pour his soul into fashion and he did. We are all so lucky he was the storytelling thread of fashion, notably through his magical words describing detailed nuances as well as the superlative dramatic moments he witnessed and was part of for five decades. Just thinking of André passing takes my breath away,” said Kamali.

Tom Ford said Wednesday, “It is hard for me to truly grasp the fact that André is no longer in the world. The last emails that we exchanged were a few weeks ago on New Year’s Eve. We wrote to each other often. Usually at least once a week, in fact only yesterday I wondered why I had not heard from him in a while.

“His notes were truly works of art. His giant persona sometimes overshadowed the fact that he was a brilliant journalist and an incredible writer. Often his emails were not even sentences but just a series of words. But they were the right words. Or they could be a stream of consciousness rant about something he loved or something he loathed as there was never an in-between. His letters were expressive, powerful and large in every way. The type blown up to a giant point size, and more recently punctuated with emojis, they could sometimes be several pages long if one were to print them. And print them I did, as they were often so truly brilliant that I wanted to have an actual paper copy of them,” Ford said.

“He could be hysterically funny. Absurd and really genius at the same time. Just when he would say something so completely shocking and worthy of Marie Antoinette, he would then counter it with a statement so sharp and right on that it reminded you of just why he was able to have come so far in the world,” he said.

“As a designer, I felt that I often wanted to show off for him. He could look at one of my collections and basically recite all of the things that would have been on my mood board that season. He saw things or rather he ‘intuited’ them like no other editor I have ever known. A rave from him meant so much to me. I adored him. And I will miss him,” Ford said.

Michael Kors said Wednesday he has so many great memories of André. “From discussing the American simplicity and glamour of Mainbocher, to going to see Diahann Carroll at the Regency on Park Avenue, to dishing about Studio 54 and talking about shopping at The Westchester mall. He was always curious, fun and incredibly smart. One of my all-time favorite moments with André was a photo shoot that he was styling for American Vogue back in the ‘90s. It was a portrait of me, Isaac Mizrahi and Marc Jacobs shot by Annie Leibovitz, and he and Annie kept telling us that we were looking very sullen and sad. Considering it was the end of Fashion Week, it wasn’t sadness — it was just pure exhaustion. André immediately started telling outrageous stories and told all of us who were still smokers at the time to light up a cigarette and just relax. He had a way of being able to change the energy in any room he entered. He truly was a force of nature.”

Tommy Hilfiger recalled that he’s known André from the early days of his career. “He was always curious about my connection to art, music and entertainment, and was super supportive of the movement. His knowledge of fashion history was unparalleled, and I loved hearing about how he viewed the intersection of fashion and culture.  He brought a sense of joy, beauty and love not just to fashion but to life. He was truly a one-of-a-kind personality with a unique sense of humor He will be missed greatly,” said Hilfiger.

Peter Som talked about the first time Talley came to see his collection.

“The first time he came to see me and my collection in-person it was at my then PR company’s small downtown office. I was so nervous to meet him – he came in with a whirl — a complete force of nature — but he was kind, thoughtful and direct. He offered me a ride back uptown in his Town car when the appointment was over. As we chatted in the back seat, I complimented him on his track pants that peeked out from under his massive fur coat to which he proclaimed ‘Darling, they’re Sean John!’ I’ll always remember that day,” said Som. “He believed  in me and my collection from the beginning and was always the first to rush back stage  to congratulate me with his signature bellowing voice,” said Som.

“Truly we have lost a bright light and it really is an end of an era. His height may have stood out, but it was the way he took and claimed his space in the world that is awe-inspiring. Larger than life but also real. With kindness and passion for what he believed in. He broke down barriers, changed the face of fashion and the landscape of culture and I’m so honored to have known this great man,” said Som.

Former Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter, who is now co-editor of Air Mail, said: “He was a dear friend and maybe the greatest fashion historian of his generation. He was a giant of fashion and a walking dictionary. When he came to Vanity Fair, he did five or six things for us that were as inventive as anything that we’d ever seen before.”

After his Condé Nast days had wound down, Talley pitched in at Carter’s newsletter Air Mail. Describing Talley as “a wonderful contributor,” Carter said he especially loved his book reviews, and “so did our readers. I will miss him terribly.”

Unabashed about sharing his views, Talley was not one to pull punches. His friend, the designer Ralph Rucci, said Tuesday night, “Beneath the particulars and the judgments, he was the most sensitive man — a brother. I loved him and watched over him with a paternal nature. I, and others, loved to constantly bring luxury into his life. Most of all, he made me laugh, which extinguished so much steam from this thing called fashion,” Rucci said.

Courtesy: WWD

Born in Washington, D.C., he was raised in Durham, North Carolina by his grandmother, who cleaned dorm rooms at Duke University. On that campus, he first started reading copies of Vogue. Later as an undergraduate at Carolina Central University, he earned a degree in French literature. Afterward, he attended Brown University and earned a master of arts degree in French literature. Talley lived in France from 1978 to 1980 while working for Women’s Wear Daily, with his first big piece on Yves Saint Laurent establishing him in Paris. That was the first of “so many great experiences” and travels in France, he said.

Describing Talley as “a phenomenal journalist, who amazed you with his analysis of fashion and the whole history of fashion in general,” Ralph Toledano, president of the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, said, “Above all, he was the only person, who dared to stand up to Karl Lagerfeld two days before a show. He didn’t let go and Karl listened to him…it’s a scene that has remained engraved in my memory.”

There were also other trying exchanges, as chronicled in his memoir “The Chiffon Trenches,” which was released in 2020. In any interview with WWD before its debut, the former Condé Nast-er acknowledged that he does not consider himself to be a perfect person. “To put up with me at Vogue, at Women’s Wear Daily, I’m sure was not an easy thing. I take total responsibility, too. But I’m not going to be a victim of Anna Wintour. I’m not sitting here crying, saying, ‘Woe is me. Anna Wintour has ditched me and pushed me to the curb,’ which I feel she has done. But I’m strong enough to overcome that.”

Talley authored several books, including “Valentino,” “A.L.T.: André Leon Talley,” “A.L.T. 365+“ and “Little Black Dress,” and contributed to “Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table” and “Cartier Panthère.” Valentino Garavani said Wednesday that he wouldn’t call Talley a fashion journalist. “He was an artist, who wrote about fashion. He wrote in the same style that he dressed…flamboyant, elegant and fun, which was just as he was himself. I am honored to have worked with him on so many projects, which remain very dear to me, like my book. I feel very privileged to have been his friend.” Garavani said.

Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli said Wednesday, “Andre was an icon of fashion, who has truly marked and accompanied, with his progressive vision, a unique and magnificent era. He will continue to inspire the fashion world and all that revolves around it. He will continue to live in our hearts and memories.”

Recalling his time helming the Italian label Fendi, Louis Vuitton chairman and chief executive officer Michael Burke said what he remembered most about Talley was “his laugh, his joie de vive. He would always come to Rome with Anna [Wintour.] He loved fur, he loved life, he loved people. He was a big teddy bear.”

Burke still has a picture of Talley in Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome, decked out in a full-length fox coat, “laughing his baritone laugh, and he always traveled with his Louis Vuitton trunks. It was the only thing that could hold his garments.” Burke said.

Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s creative director for women’s wear, recalled, “Talley’s appearances were always spectacular and stunning. I warmly remember his amazing curiosity, and his capability to really listen, and understand. We’ll miss his wit and the sharp and visionary intelligence of one of the greatest protagonists of the fashion system, one who truly loved (and mastered) fashion.”

Talley was also the subject of the 2017 documentary film “The Gospel According to André” and appeared in the movie “Sex and the City 2.” Accustomed as he was to the designer crowd and the adornments of a fashion career, Talley often spoke in recent years about the need for greater diversity and understanding. In a 2020 interview with WWD, Talley said, “The biggest challenge is to get up everyday and to go forward and to fight the battle…a Black man must think about racism every single day.”

Fern Mallis described Talley Tuesday night “as always being so much fun to be around. When he appeared at one of her “Fashion Icons” talks, Talley reeled in the A-list to attend, including Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Grace Coddington and Bette Midler. When his friend Bethann Hardison attempted to leave for the restroom, Talley chastised her from the stage, Mallis recalled.

Courtesy: WWD

“I also loved going to the VIP Manolo Blahnik sample sales. He always sat prominently in the middle of a room filled with tables with mountains of shoes and [surrounded] by lots of frantic women grabbing everything they could. He sat in a majestic chair and women would crave his opinion, which as you could imagine — he was generous with,” Mallis said.

Talley had a deep relationship with the Savannah College of Art and Design. He was a member of SCAD’s board of trustees for over 13 years and was the first recipient of the SCAD Lifetime Achievement Award in Fashion in 2001, that was then titled the “Andre Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award.” In 2012,  a gallery was named in his honor at the award-winning SCAD Museum of Art  in Savannah. Talley frequently connected the university, students, and alumni with designers such as von Furstenberg, Ford, Vera Wang, Zac Posen, and Isabel Toledo. Talley has donated his personal library to SCAD that is now titled the “ALT Collection,” and includes photos, artwork, and other memorabilia for students to view and use for inspiration and research.

Paula Wallace, SCAD president and founder said Wednesday, “SCAD mourns the passing of André Leon Talley, fashion’s true original. A polymath, his incisiveness on film, architecture, and design was as well-honed as his eye for fashion. He embodied the soul of wit and perception. SCAD was André’s  happy place, where he rediscovered home. He loved to hold court with students, before the SCAD Fashion Show, after a film screening, in the midst of exhibitions he’d curated at the SCAD Museum of ART. ALT loved SCAD because our university personifies the selfsame spirit that animated him – the marriage of Southern charm to cosmopolitan taste and the everlasting pursuit of wisdom and learning.

“André will live forever in my memory for his generosity, passion, commitment, and kindness. The world will never know another genius like André. He brought us all on a journey from Durham to a desk at Vogue to the studios of SCAD. In a world of changing tastes and styles, André Leon Talley was a classic. Mentor. Educator, Ingenue. Confidante. André shared his knowledge, passion, talent, and friendship with SCAD and with me for decades,” Wallace added.

Coco Rocha talked about the friendship she and André developed over the years. “André Leon Talley was a friend and trusted confidant. He and I were neighbors in Westchester county for the last 10 years and he would often check in with me and my family. In the last email he sent me, we were discussing having tea and introducing him to my newest baby girl, Iley. His departing line to me was “Nothing matters in this world but family and love, and you have IT”.  I read over that email again last night with eyes filled with tears. I hope, in the moments before he passed, he recalled how much he was loved by the extended family he had built over many decades in this industry.”

In recent years, Talley was embroiled in a legal dispute about his $1 million White Plains, N.Y., home with his friend the former Manolo Blahnik USA chief executive officer George Malkemus. Talley contested that he owned it based on a gentleman’s agreement that he had with Malkemus and his husband Anthony Yurgaitis, who purchased the property. The couple contended in court filings that Talley had failed to pay rent for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Talley’s attorney Erik Weinick said Wednesday that the parties had been able to resolve the legal dispute, allowing Talley to continue to live at his home before his unfortunate passing Tuesday. Malkemus died last fall.

Garavani’s longtime business partner Giancarlo Giammetti said Wednesday that when Talley had faced a possible eviction, he offered his help. “He laughed in that irresistible way of his, called the whole thing a joke and assured me he would be okay. He left us with so much to cherish from the joy and originality of how he lived, Giammetti said.

Another public dispute surfaced after “The Chiffon Trenches” was released. Talley’s blistering portrayal of his former Vogue boss Anna Wintour and the severed ties between them set off a firestorm of media publicity. Talley speculated about the public’s fascination with the feud in an interview with WWD in 2020, “I think people are riveted by this, because Anna Wintour is on everybody’s brain waves, because she is a very powerful human being. Perhaps they are perplexed or mystified by me, my relationship to Vogue, how did I land at Vogue, why am I not at Vogue now, what’s going on.”

He added, “People are so fascinated by this, because she is a very, very powerful woman, as with ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’ She managed to be more than icon. She is a world figure.”

In a statement published Wednesday morning, Wintour said: “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.”

Teri Agins recalled meeting Talley in 1977, when they both worked for Fairchild Publications. With his gravitas, towering 6’7” frame, fluent French, Savile Row suits, custom shoes and leather gloves, Talley cut a figure in any room he entered. Educated academically and socially, “he became the fashion guru, because he worked really hard.” Agins said. “Andre was ‘the quote-tron’ – a quote machine. People loved to talk to him, because he wasn’t just pontificating. He actually understood fashion.”

She added, “You have to remember that at the time in the Seventies, fashion was a very elite, rarified gated community of wealthy Europeans and wealthy white people in America. It was not egalitarian or anything like it is now. Andre was not there because they needed a Black person. Andre was there, because they needed a connoisseur. He was part of the club.”

The  combination of his vast knowledge and insider status permeated throughout his fashion journalism, Agins said. “He wasn’t like a reporter calling a designer and asking to come over to do an interview. Andre was steeped in that world. He understood French culture and the fashion culture. He hung out with those people. In addition to his connoisseurship, he also brought that nuance and accessibility, which made his stories so rich and exciting. You felt like you were really there, and you were on the inside.”

Talley  was also outspoken about the need for advocacy and brands to enact change and inclusion. “The brands should be more aware and conscious of the times that we live in, which are difficult because of the pandemic and the whole thing about social justice and equality for Black people.…People have got to be included more. It’s not just a selfish thing anymore. Fashion turned in on itself and became this very narcissus endeavor, with brands outdoing brands and shows outdoing shows.”

Despite  the arcs and tenors of his life, Talley maintained the importance of progressing and moving forward. In a 2020 interview with WWD, he said, “What makes me hopeful is a sense of who I am and that there can be progress. People have to come together — individuals within the fashion world and outside the fashion world — to continue to work, to struggle and you don’t give up. You don’t give up the dream. The dream has not been realized.”

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