The term “greater than life” floated as tributes poured in remembrance of André Leon Talley, fashion editor and style icon passed away on Tuesday 18 January at the age of 73.
Referring to both his personality and physical stature, the phrase became a convenient descriptor long before he became an ancestor. Talley seemed to show a hint of unease when used in her presence as introductory fodder during her countless appearances as a fashion expert on talk shows and red carpets.
The offense was justified because of its implications for his body type. But the towering frame of an unrepentant black man in an industry where skinny white women have historically been established as an acceptable standard has made his rise even more extraordinary.
“A titan of fashion journalism who serves us a sermon of knowledge of high fashion with swagger,” said supermodel Iman recalling Talley.
With his glorious capes and elaborate caftans, Talley not only proclaimed himself worthy, but commanded a seat at the head of the fashion royal table.
“Your clothes must make you feel fabulous,” Talley told a St. Louis audience when he visited the Saint Louis Fashion Fund’s “Speaking of Fashion” lecture series to coincide with the 2017 Saint Louis Art Museum exhibition. Reigning men, Fashion in men’s clothing, 1715-2015. “Everyone may not like the way you dress, but with everything you wear, you must feel that you are absolutely the most fabulous thing walking down the street.”
Susan Sherman, co-founder of the Saint Louis Fashion Fund, was first introduced to Talley through a mutual friend and invited him to speak as part of the “Speaking of Fashion” series hosted at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2017.
“It was bigger than life – which has been said a million times, but it’s true,” Sherman said. “But he was also a gentle giant. He was thrilled with his mentoring of students and young designers in his later years. “
Stylist Michael Shead, who had the honor of being Talley’s pupil, said he learned a lot about the ins and outs of the industry from the icon. He said he has always instilled the gem in him to make sure what you are creating is authentic to you.
“Make sure it’s authentic to your compass and make sure you’re doing what inspires you and being creative,” Shead said.
He also said that Talley pointed out how the industry will challenge him and others in their work.
“He challenged me to the point where he told me you should only wear evening and wedding dresses,” Shead said. “It was like those were your strengths, these department stores are dying. You’d be crazy to make ready-to-wear for department stores. “
Chi Anderson, model and creative model coach, did not have the opportunity to have a personal relationship with Talley like Shead and Sherman, but still stressed the importance of her influence.
“He created a lane himself and grew up on it,” Anderson said. “There are so many people who have tried to imitate Andre and have simply failed. It was an absolute one of a kind. I hate not having had a chance to be in the same room with him. “
With her presence, Talley has created space for the next generation of black fashionistas, from designers, creative directors to journalists, models and photographers. At the same time he provided style advice to some of the biggest names in popular culture.
“He’s the Nelson Mandela of couture, the Kofi Anon of what you’re wearing”, Black Eyed Peas frontman William she said in Kate Novak’s 2018 documentary “The Gospel Secondo André. “
The film chronicled her nearly 50-year career in which she topped the charts of the ultra-exclusive and isolated fashion industry. He worked with the famous former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, he worked with Andy Warhol at Interview magazine, and he served as head of the Paris office for Women’s clothing every day. A New York Times bestselling author Talley is perhaps best known for collaborating with current Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour in various roles for more than 25 years. He became Vogue’s first black male creative director and later served as Editor at Large.
Before their famous split, he often praised Wintour for giving him the space to be in an industry that constantly reminded him he didn’t belong.
“What I remember is that I was not so much his protector,” Wintour said of Talley in “The Second Gospel. André“To be totally honest, my fashion story isn’t that big, and his has been flawless, so I think I’ve learned a lot from him.”
The first few chapters of Talley’s encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, style, glamor and elegance were people Rowing pages of a magazine he flipped through in a public library in the heart of Jim Crow South during his formative years.
“Andre is one of the last of those great editors who knows what they are looking at, he knows what they are seeing and he knows where he comes from,” designer Tom Ford said in the film.
André Leon Talley was born in Washington, DC on October 16, 1948, but was raised in Durham, North Carolina by his grandmother, who indoctrinated him with her sense of elegance and style. It has faced the harsh reality of segregation and racism, but fashion journalism has provided a safe haven.
“My escape from reality was Rowing Magazine, ”Talley said.
He was particularly influenced by seeing pioneering models Naomi Sims and Pat Cleveland within the pages of the magazine.
“I loved seeing the blacks inside Rowing, and these were two amazing black models that changed fashion, “said Talley.”[Through their presence] I could see that there were people who weren’t racist, who didn’t judge you by the color of your skin. “
After earning a bachelor’s degree from HBCU North Carolina Central University in his hometown of Durham, Talley earned a scholarship from Brown University, where he earned a master’s degree in French Studies.
His classmates at Brown convinced him to lean on his passion for fashion as a profession. He moved to New York in the mid-1970s. In less than a decade he had climbed to the top of the rankings. After a decisive career race Women’s clothing every day, Talley returned from France to lend his talent to the magazine that introduced him to the industry, where he became the first black male creative director.
She described her life in the best-selling fashion book “The Chiffon trenches: a memory. The book also chronicles the racist abuse and personal attacks he suffered as a black man in the predominantly white fashion industry.
“It’s hard, chiffon trench coats,” Talley said. “I make it look effortless sitting in the front row all those years with the attitude, the sable coats and the coats from Prada, but it was tough. People say: ‘how do you do it? How have you endured this world for so long? “I say, ‘through my faith and my ancestors'”.