RIP ALT: “All The Smalltown Boys Wanting To Make It Big In Fashion Have Lost Their Mentor”

by Ian Grafvonluxburg

To attempt to summarize the significance of André Leon Talley’s impact in a couple hundred words seems like an injustice to his grandeur. A smalltown boy from Durham, North Carolina turned legendary editor and consultant to the greats. Standing at a stoic six-foot six, Talley paraded through the industry shaping the lives and careers of many of the people we now, in turn, deem legendary. The industry has lost a powerful voice, and for all the smalltown boys like myself wanting to make it big in fashion journalism, we have lost our mentor.

The legacy that ‘ALT’ leaves behind can be seen and heard widely. As news broke of his death, social media was instantly inundated with tributes to the late editor. As vintage pictures began to surface, it was clear to see how much of a vital player he was in this mammoth space we call the fashion industry: iconic images of him dancing at Studio 54 with Diana Ross and sitting front row beside Anna Wintour at Karl Lagerfeld’s inaugural show for Chanel. His bylines are embedded in fashion history, forever immortalized on the pages of Vanity Fair, Interview, W, and Vogue. Marc Jacobs, Riccardo Tisci, Diane Von Furstenberg, and many designers have all shared personal memories of Talley too; noting the void now left in their lives.

 

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A post shared by Riccardo Tisci (@riccardotisci17)

While the fashion world is currently treading down the path of inclusivity and self-expression, we would not be enjoying this newfound freedom if Talley hadn’t been the first to challenge the status quo. A proud southern Black man, he inserted himself into a space where his presence was unprecedented, and demanded the same attention and respect as his peers—a large portion of whom were of European descent and fit a certain type of image. But he didn’t care. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, and charisma that could last for days. Without being a designer, model, or photographer, Talley was able to captivate the minds of people that normally wouldn’t have listened to someone that looked like him.

As a brown, gay boy interested in fashion journalism, Talley was one of the monumental greats who I looked up to. I moved to New York City in 2016 after high school to pursue my passion; similarly to how he landed, hopeful, in the city in 1974. I knew that fashion was what I wanted to work in, but without any prodigy-like talents to showcase, I struggled during the beginning of my academic and professional career trying to figure out where I fit in. In those moments, I looked to Talley as living proof that there was not only space for me—space he personally created—but that I deserved to be in that space. Unapologetically glamorous, opinionated, educated, and effortlessly stylish, Talley embodied all of the qualities that I aspired to see in myself one day. And through it all, he remained one of the kindest and humblest industry insiders.

Andre Leon Talley (PMC)

As we come together to mourn ALT, we will remember him through the mark that he left on us all, no matter how big or small your connection to him.“Since a young age, he’s always been someone I looked up to and wanted to emulate,” Kanika Talwar, a fashion journalism student at Central Saint Martins in London, said. “I’m thankful I got to live during the time of such a visionary.” Mario Abad, fashion editor at Paper Magazine, added, “André was one of the biggest reasons I saw that there could be room for someone like me to work in the industry. As a low-income queer boy who grew up in a conservative town in the south, I never thought I’d fit the mold to break in somehow. André’s very existence defied those norms and made it possible for little minority boys and girls everywhere to actually have a shot.”

The next generation of fashion journalists now have the responsibility to continue to do the work that ALT began. A quote from a Time Out interview with Talley from 2009 wraps it all up with an Hermès silk bow (his favorite!): “I’d like to be remembered as someone who made a difference in the lives of young people—that I nurtured someone and taught them to pursue their dreams and their careers, to leave a legacy.”

RIP.

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