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André Leon Talley Has Died

The pioneering fashion editor, known for his high-profile friendships and larger-than-life personality, helped transform the industry.
André Leon Talley.
André Leon Talley. (Getty images)

André Leon Talley, the fashion journalist who worked at American Vogue for decades, has died after suffering a heart attack at the age of 73.

The news was first reported by former Vanity Fair editor and Air Mail founder Graydon Carter.

Talley was an industry pioneer who worked alongside everyone from Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute to Andy Warhol at Interview, served as the Paris editor for WWD and spent decades working with Anna Wintour at Vogue, first as creative director then as editor-at-large.

“The loss of Andre 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 Andre’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 colourful faxes and emails were a highly anticipated event, something we all looked forward to,” said Wintour in Vogue.

“He was a dear friend, and maybe the greatest fashion historian of his generation,” Carter said. “He was a giant of fashion and a walking dictionary. When he came to Vanity Fair, he did five or six things for us that were as inventive as anything we’d ever seen before. He was also a wonderful colleague at Air Mail; I especially loved his book reviews, and so did our readers. I will miss him terribly.”

“He was in a good place in his life right now,” said designer Diane von Furstenberg, his friend for more than 45 years. “Everybody goes through difficulty, but he was good.”

Talley, born in Washington, DC, and raised in North Carolina, was one of the most visible representatives of the fashion industry, with a persona that garnered him fame and recognition far beyond the confines of the front row. He worked as a judge on the reality television show America’s Next Top Model and introduced former American First Lady Michelle Obama to designer Jason Wu, whose designs she wore early on in the Obama administration, helping elevate the standing of American designers internationally.

“If you walked the street with him, he was a big star,” Von Furstenberg said. “He was bigger than life. To be his friend was hard work, but it was worth it because he was so unique.”

Talley’s experience as one of the first prominent Black magazine editors in fashion was riddled with instances of racism, insidious and more explicit, which he rarely discussed publicly. In his 2018 documentary, “The Gospel According to André,” Talley shared how “a woman in Saint Laurent...used to call me Queen Kong...I never confronted her because these things I internalised and kept them bottled up.”

That same year, Talley told Washington Post columnist Robin Givhan, “Race does define me. It feels more relevant now to bring it to the forefront,” and referred to his earliest days at Vogue when Anna Wintour would consult Talley on whether a magazine spread featuring people of colour “would offend anyone.”

Tributes flooded social media Wednesday, acknowledging the trailblazing role Talley played.

“R.I.P dearest André. Without you, there would be no me. Thank you for paving the way,” British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful wrote in a tribute on Instagram.

“André Leon Talley walked ever so fiercely so that many of us could run,” GQ France’s head of editorial content Pierre Alexandre M’Pelé wrote. “ALT once said: ‘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.’ That’s how we’ll remember him, but we won’t forget the style, the eloquence, the knowledge, or the charisma.”

Talley would eventually go on to release a documentary about his life and publish two memoirs, which detailed everything from his most notable industry relationships with people like Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld and Naomi Campbell to the struggles he said he faced building a life entrenched in the fashion industry. Eventually, Talley outlined his personal financial struggles that culminated in a lawsuit threatening eviction to the New York Times.

His outsize impact on the industry was recognised as recently as 2021, when he received the North Carolina Governor’s award for literature and was made a chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a recognition for contribution to the arts in France. The Savannah College of Art and Design, the fashion school whose board Talley served on and from which he received an honorary doctorate, opened a gallery in his name in 2011.

He will also be remembered for his loyalty as a friend. Von Furstenberg recalled that as Vreeland was ageing and had trouble with her eyesight, Talley would visit her and read to her.

“My story is a fairytale of excess, and in every fairytale, there is evil and darkness, but you overcome it with light,” Talley told The Guardian in 2020. “I want every person I come across – the stranger on the street, the church member in the pew next to me – to feel love. I have not been privy to love in my life, but I want them to feel that they have received some love from engaging with me, André Leon Talley.”

Daniel-Yaw Miller contributed to this article.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Jan 19 to include additional tributes to Talley.

Further Reading

André Leon Talley looks back at thousands of images shot by Andy Warhol and remembers life at Interview magazine and a moment of cultural history.

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