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The Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices

Black Voices: The legacy of André Leon Talley, a fashion oracle


Fashion pioneer and former Vogue creative director André Leon Talley passed away Tuesday at the age of 73.

Talley's death was confirmed on his Instagram page Wednesday morning. According to an obituary from Vogue, he died of a heart attack.

“The loss of André is felt by so many of us today,” Anna Wintour, editor in chief of the United States edition of Vogue, said. “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.” 

Talley made history for being an influential Black editor in a notoriously white and elitist field. He was regularly at the front of fashion shows from New York to Paris dressed in his signature sweeping capes and colorful tailor-made caftans.

Talley grew up in the segregated South in a time when no person of color had a prominent position in fashion. However, in 1988, Talley became the first Black man named creative director of Vogue magazine. 

When he was younger, he regularly went to the local public library to view copies of Vogue and immerse himself in the world of fashion. 

In a Vogue article, the author, Nicole Phelps, said after earning a master’s degree from Brown University Talley apprenticed with the former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Along with working at Vogue, Talley worked at Interview Magazine, Women's Wear Daily and EBONY magazine.

He worked to diversify the fashion industry by casting Naomi Campbell as a Black protagonist portraying Scarlett O' Hara and the white designers' John Galliano and Manolo Blahnik playing her servants in the reenvisioned "Gone With the Wind" photoshoot. 

He worked to bring culture to fashion editorials and to show more than just white models. Talley’s editorials featured models such as Naomi Campbell and Veronica Webb, photos of New York's ball culture, and members of the legendary House of LaBeija striking a pose.

In a 2019 Washington Post story, Talley discussed his influence on the advancement and inclusion of Black designers and models in Vogue and the fashion world.

“I sounded no bullhorn over diversity but nurtured it where I could,” Talley said. “ But some areas — cover photography, for instance — were entirely in the hands of others.”

In his 2020 memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” Talley attributed his position at EBONY for making him a household name in the Black community. His previous work with Women's Wear Daily was not accessible to the members of the community.

“But they all subscribed to and read the monthly EBONY, as well as Jet…,” Talley said. “Finally, I had a job that would make my entire church family and all my aunts and cousins proud.”

Later in his career, Talley also appeared on TV as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model,” cameos in the “Sex and the City” movie and on “Empire.”

Talley broke down numerous barriers and opened the door for opportunities for queer and Black people in the fashion industry.

After news about his death broke, many celebrities went on social media and offered their condolences and reflected on the legend of André Leon Talley.

The fashion designer Diana von Furstenberg wrote a heartfelt tribute on Instagram.

“No one saw the world in a more elegant and glamorous way than you did … no one was more soulful and grander than you were,” she said.

Edward Enninful, who in 2017 became the first man and first Black editor of the British Vogue magazine, paid tribute to Talley and his success on Instagram.

“R.I.P dearest Andre,” Enninful said. “Without you, there would be no me. Thank you for paving the way.”

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