By Sean Federico-O’Murchu, CNN | Chris Boyette, CNN and Oscar Holland, CNN
André Leon Talley, the former longtime creative director for Vogue and a fashion icon in his own right, has died at age 73, according to a statement on his official Instagram account.
Talley was a pioneer in the fashion industry, a Black man in an often insular world dominated by white men and women.
In 2017, at an event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Talley described the challenges of promoting diversity on the glossy pages of fashion magazines.
“I worked behind the scenes. I did it in dulcet tones, and I was persistent and tenacious….I always assumed a very quiet role. I didn’t scream and yell and shout….That was the best strategy, because that was the world I moved in. After all, it was Vogue, darling,” he told host Tamron Hall.
Talley was born in Washington DC but at two months old, his parents brought him to Durham, North Carolina, where he was raised by his grandmother, Bennie Francis Davis, whom he called Mama.
In his 2020 memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” he described his early joy of immersing himself in books at the city library in Durham. “My world became the glossy pages of Vogue, where I could read about Truman Capote’s legendary ball, given at the Plaza, in honor of Katharine Graham,” he wrote.
A signature moment in his youth was the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and the presence of his glamorous wife Jackie Kennedy, describing her as the “first influencer” of the modern world.
“I was obsessed with her pillbox hat, and her little snippet of fur at the collar, and her fur-edged boots, as well as the muff she carried to keep her hands warm during the freezing-cold January day,” Talley wrote.
Talley arrived in New York in 1974, and found himself quickly at the frenzied intersection of fashion and art, working and mingling with the likes of Halston, Karl Lagerfeld and Andy Warhol.
After a stint in Paris with Women’s Wear Daily, Talley joined Vogue in 1983 as news director. He was promoted to creative director in 1988 and later served as editor-at-large. Except for a period with W magazine in Paris, he remained a fixture at Vogue for nearly four decades.
At 6-foot-6 and with a booming voice, Talley was a towering figure in every sense. He was often seen sitting in the front row of elite fashion shows alongside editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, and his influence over fashion continued long after his departure from Vogue in 2013.
Talley appeared as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model” and was the subject of a documentary The Gospel According to André, which was released in 2017, and was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in honor of his contribution to the fashion industry.
On April 22, 2021, he described the French recognition as the “best day of my life” in an Instagram post.
“To be in the august and impeccable body of Chevaliers: Diana Vreeland, Tina Turner, James Baldwin, Rudolph Nureyev and for a black man educated in public schools in Durham, North Carolina, I thank my French teacher, the late Cynthia P. Smith, who wrapped me in French: the language, the culture, style, history and literature,” he wrote.
Talley’s published work includes “A.L.T: A Memoir” as well as illustrated books including “Little Black Dress,” and “Oscar de la Renta, His Legendary World of Style.”
He received his MA in French studies from Brown and served on the board of trustees for the Savannah College of Art and Design for 20 years.
Last year, Talley touched on the significance of Vogue’s cover featuring poet Amanda Gorman to the Black community and wider fashion world, describing it “a first for so many levels.”
“We are continuing to climb hills, hills of healing, hills of forgiving, and climbing hills and mountains of overcoming all adversity, systemic racism and inequity,” he wrote in an Instagram post.
Tributes to Talley began pouring in late Tuesday, with writer Roxane Gay describing him on Twitter as “a beacon of style for so many.” Editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful, meanwhile thanked the late icon for “paving the way,” writing on Instagram: “Without you, there would be no me.”
“Rest in peace @OfficialALT” tweeted fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. “We will miss you.”
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