André Leon Talley Has Died, Aged 73

by Freya Drohan

André Leon Talley, a pioneering editor and creative director with an encyclopedia-worthy knowledge of fashion history, reportedly died on Tuesday aged 73 at a hospital near his home in White Plains, NY. A best-selling author, commentator, and outspoken journalist, he will be remembered for his staunch commitment to diversity, his billowing capes, one liners, and his often scathing accounts of the “golden age” of fashion media which he came of age in.

AirMail broke the news of ALT’s death via social media, while also sharing one of his last-ever stories. In September 2020, he penned an op-ed for Graydon Carter’s online magazine on what happens next in fashion: a subject he routinely wrote and spoke passionately about for his near-50 year career in the industry.

From humble and turbulent beginnings in North Carolina where he was raised by his grandmother, Talley got his first break in 1974 when he apprenticed for legendary editor and tastemaker Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vreeland would later recommend Talley for a role at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, which led him to stints at WWD, W, the New York Times, and, ultimately, Vogue; the publication with which his name is most synonymous. As the magazine’s fashion news director from 1983 to 1987, he maintained a larger than life presence (thanks to his undulating love for OTT outfits) in the industry and was one of few, if the only, Black editors of his ilk. Talley also served as Vogue’s creative director from 1988 to 1995—placing him in the role of Anna Wintour’s right hand. As a respected authority, he ensured more visibility for Black models on covers, in campaigns, and on the catwalk.

Anna Wintour and André Leon Talley (Shutterstock)

His fraught relationship with his onetime boss (Talley also returned to the mag as an editor at large in 1998) has been the subject of several autobiographies and far more interviews. However, in recent years, he appeared to bury the hatchet and often praised the editrix in lengthy state-of-the-industry and cover review captions on his Instagram.

André Leon Talley stars in the Ugg Feel campaign (Courtesy)

Largely believed to be a pioneering voice of diversity in the high fashion world during the ’80s and ’90s, ALT undeniably achieved iconic status. From styling the Obamas and cameos on Sex and the City to a judging stint on America’s Next Top Model and an affinity of comfortable shoes while sitting front row—which led to a recent campaign with Ugg—he paved the way for future generations to climb a masthead despite adversity.

RIP.

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