Remembering André: The fashion trailblazer earned his place in Black history
Author and veteran fashion journalist Harriette Cole remembers and honors the former editor-at-large of Vogue magazine, André Leon Talley, and his influence on the fashion industry.
Fashion is notoriously cyclical—what was once considered haute is later discarded, and ultimately, reclaimed and beloved again. As André Leon Talley recounted in his second memoir, The Chiffon Trenches (his first being A.L.T.: A Memoir), his own journey through the notoriously fickle fashion industry wasn’t too dissimilar.
In his 73 years, Talley was first fostered, then revered, then cast aside by many in the industry he helped bring to the fore.
Since his death on Jan. 18, there has again been mass adulation for the acclaimed fashion editor, stylist, and journalist. But Talley’s story began humbly as so many Black stories have throughout history.
A D.C.-born Black boy raised by a doting grandmother in North Carolina, an already-towering young Talley followed a love of art, beauty and French literature north to Brown University. He would ultimately land an internship New York City, where, in a series of circumstances befitting a fashion fairytale, his innate charm and talent won him the mentorship of famed Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. That, in turn, led to a stint working for Andy Warhol‘s entities.
Many more career stops would follow as Talley climbed the ranks of the fashion industry to American Vogue. There, he would ultimately rise through the masthead to become the fashion bible’s editor-at-large, with an inner circle including Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld and many of fashion’s most legendary names.
To gaze upon the impervious figure often seated next to Wintour in fashion’s most exclusive front rows, one might not consider the indignities that came with being the “first” to enter many of those elite spaces.
In his memoir, Talley recalled being called “Queen Kong”—or worse, presumed to have bartered himself for his coveted spot in fashion’s firmament.
One also might not suspect that behind the glossy veneer of Vogue, Talley, so often the only Black person in the room, was quietly helping more to ascend in his stead—because it’s often lonely at the top, especially for a Black queer man.
The story of Talley the pioneer is the one his friend, veteran fashion journalist and author Harriette Cole, would like to add to his already notable legacy; the story of a once-unlikely fashion icon who made it possible for legions more to follow.
Cole, in conversation with Nii-Quartelai Quartey, shared her memories with theGrio following Talley’s death. As she explains, his advocacy along with his incredible achievements cement his status as not only a first, but a godfather in the fashion world, making Talley a trailblazer well-deserving of his place in Black history.
Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in the fashion and entertainment industries, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).
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