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Fashion

Black In Fashion Spotlight: Looking Back On André Leon Talley’s Groundbreaking Career

The journalist, stylist, and creative director paved the way for Black folks in fashion.

André Leon Talley passed away due to complications from COVID-19 on January 18, 2022, but if the tributes that followed thereafter are any indication, he is sure to live within fashion forever.

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While Talley’s influence can be found in various areas of fashion, the industry most importantly has the journalist to thank for both the early and recent strides toward inclusivity and diversity we see today.

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Born in D.C., Talley looked to his grandmother for an understanding of luxury. With initial intentions on teaching French, he acquired both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in French literature while simultaneously working as a park ranger.

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After falling in love with fashion around the age of ten, Talley would inevitably pursue his dreams. In 1974, he first began an unpaid apprenticeship for Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which soon led to a job at Andy Warhol’s Interview, earning $50 a week.

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Talley went on to work stints at Ebony, W, Numéro Russia, WWD and The New York Times, but is most recognized for his time at Vogue, taking on the roles of fashion news director, creative director, contractor, and editor-at-large between 1998 and 2013.

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From mentoring models like Naomi Campbell to pushing top designers to feature more Black models on their runways and advocating for women of color on the cover of Vogue, Talley used his platform to become a pillar of change.

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Doing the same for emerging designers of color, Talley pushed for placements for brands such as Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons early on, later mentoring designers like LaQuan Smith. The editor even introduced Michelle Obama to Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu, whose dress she later wore to the 2009 Presidential Inauguration.

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He also became a successful published author, writing The Gospel According to André, and co-authoring Mega-Star with Richard Bernstein. Later, his memoir The Chiffon Trenches, would make the New York Times Best Seller list. The journalist was also featured in documentaries such as The September Issue and The First Monday in May.

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From park ranger to unpaid intern to Vogue’s editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley broke down barriers for himself, and held the door open behind him. His 50 years in fashion helped to reshape the industry for the better.

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Read the rest of our ‘Black In Fashion Spotlight’ series on: Virgil Abloh, June Ambrose, Dapper Dan, and Ruth E. Carter.