International Fashion Icon André Leon Talley Leaves His Legacy at Age 73
André Leon Talley, the pioneering fashion icon and former Vogue creative director died on Tuesday (Jan. 18) at the age of 73 in New York. The news came late last night from his agent David Vigliano and later confirmed by his friend Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, according to Vogue. He died of a heart attack after battling a series of unknown health challenges in the hospital.
Talley, known amongst his peers as a "creative genius" and the "fashion bible", stood tall at 6 feet 6 inches tall. He was recognized as world renowned fashion figure for his personal style of regal capes and headpieces.
As the first Black man to hold a position as creative director and Editor at large for Vogue, Talley rose to the top of the fashion industry through his deep academic understanding of fashion history and design. His innate fashion acumen and influence allowed him to be respectfully heard when he wrote about other designers of color.
Talley was born on Oct. 16, 1948, in Washington, D.C. to Alma and William Carroll Talley. He was raised by his grandmother Bennie Frances Davis in Durham, North Carolina, during Jim Crow. Talley was educated at Hillside High School, graduating in 1966, and North Carolina Central University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature in 1970. He later enrolled into Brown University after receiving a scholarship, where he earned his master’s degree in French literature.
"To my 12-year-old self, raised in the segregated South, the idea of a Black man playing any kind of role in this world seemed an impossibility,” he wrote in his memoir. “To think of where I’ve come from, where we’ve come from, in my lifetime, and where we are today, is amazing. And, yet, of course, we still have so far to go.”
Talley caught the eyes of Anna Wintour in the 1980s. He first joined Vogue in 1983 as the magazine's fashion news director. He later rose to creative director and Anna Wintour's right hand. He held the position from 1987 to 1995. He left Vogue in 1995 and moved to Paris, where he returned to W Magazine after working at the publication earlier in his career, according to People.
He continued contributing to Vogue as an editor until he rejoined the magazine in 1998 full-time as the editor-at-large, writing the monthly column Style Fax. He stayed in this role until his final departure from Vogue in 2013.
Talley wrote in his tell-all memoir, which he called a "love letter" to his former boss Anna Wintour, that she was "not capable of simple human kindness."
In an interview with PEOPLE, Talley explained that he was removed from his post as the Met Gala red carpet host and replaced by YouTuber Liza Koshy in 2018. "I had suddenly become too old, overweight and uncool for Anna Wintour," Talley told PEOPLE. "I don’t think she understands what she does to people." He added that he has "huge emotional and psychic scars" from their relationship.
A source close to Wintour told PEOPLE exclusively: "Anna considered André a friend for over 30 years and naturally was saddened by the way he chose to portray many aspects of their friendship, but he is of course entitled to tell it as he remembers it. She wishes him the best."
"I love her," Talley told People. He knows the reaction to the book so far has indicated he may feel otherwise. "People see my book as a vengeful, bitchy tell-all. It is not. My book is in many ways as a love letter to Anna Wintour."
Upon the news of his death, Anna Wintour made a statement through Vogue.
“The loss of André is felt by so many of us today: the designers he enthusiastically cheered on every season, and who loved him for it; the generations he inspired to work in the industry, seeing a figure who broke boundaries while never forgetting where he started from; those who knew fashion, and Vogue, simply because of him; and, not forgetting, the multitude of colleagues over the years who were consistently buoyed by every new discovery of André’s, which he would discuss loudly, and volubly—no one could make people more excited about the most seemingly insignificant fashion details than him. Even his stream of colorful faxes and emails were a highly anticipated event, something we all looked forward to,” said Anna Wintour.
“Yet it’s the loss of André 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, and who we will all miss so much.”
For the past half century Talley was a close confidant of Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Paloma Picasso, Diane von Furstenberg, Bethann Hardison and Manolo Blahnik.
A rep took to Talley's official Instagram to announce his passing.
"Mr. Talley was the larger-than-life, longtime creative director at Vogue during its rise to dominance as the world's fashion bible."
"Talley wrote several books, including Valentino, A.L.T.: A Memoir, A.L.T. 365+ and Little Black Dress for Assouline, and contributed to Valentino: At the Emperor’s Table and Cartier Panthère. He was the subject of the documentary The Gospel According to André and his recent memoir, The Chiffon Trenches became a New York Times Best Seller. In 2014, he was named artistic director of Zappos Couture, and he has been on the Board of Trustees of Savannah College of Art and Design since 2000. Mr. Talley was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic in 2020 and the North Carolina Governor's award for literature in 2021. He was a long-standing member of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church."