In Memoriam: André Leon Talley, Vogue’s First African-American Creative Director (1948-2022)

André Leon Talley, a celebrated figure and indomitable force in the fashion industry, sadly passed away on January 18. Known for his monumental contributions as a stylist, creative director, and editor, he served as an inspiration and catalyst for change throughout his career.

Talley’s fashion journey was deeply rooted in his childhood, growing up in his grandmother’s house, whom he frequently acknowledged as his primary influence in fashion and luxury. His fascination with the world of style was ignited at the age of nine when he discovered an issue of Vogue at a local library, marking the beginning of his lifelong association with this iconic fashion publication.

Talley’s career at Vogue began in 1983 when he took on the role of news director. Making history in 1988, he became Vogue’s first African-American male creative director, a position he held until 1995. From 1998 to 2013, he took the helm as the magazine’s influential editor-at-large.

Despite initially intending to become a French teacher after studying French literature in college, an unpaid internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art rerouted his path. This opportunity introduced him to Andy Warhol, leading to his tenure at the influential Interview Magazine. He also contributed significantly to other notable publications including W, The New York Times, and Women’s Wear Daily, heading the Paris office.

Another milestone in Talley’s career was his association with Ebony, a revolutionary magazine focusing on African-American issues and personalities, established in 1945. In the face of racial discrimination, he leveraged his position in the fashion industry, advocating for increased representation of African-American models in runway shows and editorial spreads.

Talley’s influence extended globally, including bringing Japanese designers like Issey Miyake and Comme des Garcons into mainstream fashion through Vogue. Additionally, designers such as Rick Owens and John Galliano credit him with launching their careers.

In 2013, he expanded his horizons, working as the international editor for Numero Russia. After a year, he resigned in response to anti-LGBTQ laws in Russia.

Talley’s impact reached beyond his professional accomplishments. As a 6 ft 7“ gay man growing up during the Jim Crow era, he used his influence to pave the way for people of color in the fashion industry. His presence on the hit TV show “America’s Next Top Model” brought him into the living rooms of a wider audience. He also mentored supermodel Naomi Campbell, and their friendship lasted a lifetime.

He was more than the flamboyant robes, capes and kaftans he was known for.

He was a symbol for what fashion is supposed to be – a haven for misfits, a way to express yourself without racial, sexual or physically boundaries.

His life and contributions were immortalized in the 2018 documentary, “The Gospel According to André,” offering an intimate glimpse into his personal journey.

He was quoted saying:

“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.“

And that is definitely something we will remember him for forever.