“’20 Years Strong’ means Atlanta Black Gay Pride is about more than just a party. It's about expanding the mind for the true meaning of Black Gay Pride; affirmation, advocacy, unity and educatioRead More Read More
André Leon Talley was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Alma Ruth Davis and William Carroll Talley, who worked by day as a press operator at the U.S. Patent Office and by night as a taxi driver. André’s parents eventually divorce and he was raised in the Hayti neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina by his maternal grandmother, Bennie Frances Davis, a dormitory-room cleaner at Duke University.
His early life was grounded in the church, and he was baptized in 1961. “My childhood was, by anyone’s standards, a rich one,” he later writes. Because of his height – which eventually reached six feet seven inches -his father entertained hopes he would become a basketball player.
Following his graduation from Hillside High School in 1966, he pursued French studies at North Carolina Central University. After graduation, he went on to earn his Master’s degree in French literature at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1970. While at Brown, he befriended students from the nearby Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). He eventually took an art history course at Brown and wrote a gossip-and-fashion column for their school newspaper. He began developing friendships with fashion enthusiasts and made frequent weekend trips to New York City. He is associated with former American Vogue editor-in-chief and Costume Institute consultant, Diana Vreeland.
André Leon Talley says that he was inspired by “the pivotal role played by all the fabulous, exotic North African women in the works of poet Charles Baudelaire and painter Eugène Delacroix.” Intent to use his Master’s degree to teach, his frequent visits to New York caused him to reconsider, and he eventually realized that a career in academia was not for him.
In 1974, he moved to Manhattan. With a letter of recommendation from the father of a friend from RISD, he obtained a volunteer position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. At that same time, he contributed an article to Pop Artist Andy Warhol’s “Interview Magazine.” He soon accepted his first steady job, at $50 a week, as an assistant to Andy Warhol. “On his first day at work,” editor Bob Colacello later said, “André turned up in khaki safari shirt and Bermuda shorts, with matching knee socks, topped off by a hunter’s helmet from Abercrombie & Fitch. We dubbed him André de Interview, because he often answered the phone with a festive ‘Bonjour!’” Soon, Talley was promoted from receptionist to fashion editor.
André Leon Talley became the Paris fashion editor for “Women’s Wear Daily” in 1977. They have long been considered the “Fashion Bible” of the industry and it only seemed fitting that André would contribute to their all-important critique of style.
André Leon Talley became the fashion editor of “Ebony” magazine in 1982. Hired by Eunice W. Johnson, it elevated both Ebony and Ebony Fashion Fair, the high-fashion shows that toured Black communities across America, as being at the pinnacle of the very best in high fashion. Quite simply, he brought enormous credibility to their shows and young, previously undiscovered Black designers. Tally went on to join “Vogue” in 1983 as their fashion news editor, a crucial role that put him in charge of Vogue’s View fashion section, and he was named Vogue’s creative director in 1988.
In the late 1980s, Tally lost two of the most important women in his life. His beloved grandmother Bennie Frances Davis, and his long time mentor, Diana Vreeland. He became active in the church family at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and joined their congregation in 1989. Several years later he would take up writing his memoir, partly as a therapeutic way to get over the deaths of his grandmother and Madame Vreeland.
After several years at the very top of Vogue magazine, he left fashion maven Anna Wintour and Vogue to once again, live in Paris and once again, work for his friends at WWD, becoming the bureau chief for “W”, a monthly American fashion magazine in 1995. He returned to Vogue a year later, after being named Editor-at-large and began writing a regular column, “Style Fax” which would later be known as “Life With André”.
André Leon Talley was honored in 2000 by Savannah College of Art and Design, of which he is a trustee, when they created a lifetime achievement award in his name. Noted designers Oscar de la Renta, Miuccia Prada, Tom Ford, and Manolo Blahnik have been honored as the Awards recipients. In 2003, he released, “A.L.T. A Memoir,” published by Villard Press and he took to the stage with the Martha Graham Dance Company to narrate “The Owl and the Pussycat”.
His second book, “ALT 365+”, was published in 2005. Inspired by a trip to Turin, Italy, it is an art monograph, chronicling 365 days of his life through his own photographs and words. Included are fond remarks about Diana Ross, Oscar de la Renta, and Diane von Furstenberg (a friend since the 1970s). He also co-wrote “MegaStar” with Richard Bernstein, a book with an introduction from Paloma Picasso, which has portraits of famous stars.
In the mid 2000s, an intervention was initiated by Anna Wintour, to get Talley to lose weight. As seen on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, he eventually lost a great deal of weight, and was eating a more healthy diet.
In recent years, André Leon Talley has provided commentary from the red carpet, as a cohost of ABC’s Academy Awards night coverage, and curated “A Celebration of Oscar Fashion,” which showcases famous dresses from down the years, in the grand lobby of the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters. He had a guest role, playing himself in “Sex and the City: The Movie,” and in 2008, he advised the newly elected Obama family on fashion. He introduced Michelle Obama to the Taiwanese-Canadian designer Jason Wu, from whom she bought several dresses including her inaugural gown. He has appeared in two hit documentaries: “The September Issue” and “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” and signed on as a judge in “America’s Next Top Model”.
André Leon Talley has a new title at Vogue, as Contributing Editor, and continues to write his column, “Life With André”, and report from around the globe while accepting more freelance television gigs and personal projects. He is now a frequent contributor to “Entertainment Tonight”, reporting from red carpet events including the “Screen Actors Guild Awards” and the “Oscars”.
André Leon Talley says he hates the label “gay.” and cites his strict religious upbringing as a contributor to his discomfort. But he admitted to having had some “very gay experiences.” and said that at no time, ever, were designers included. “I never slept with a single designer in my life. Never, ever desired, never was asked, never was approached, never, ever in my entire career.” When not working a red carpet somewhere in the world, he lives a relatively quiet life in his Westchester home. In 2007, he was ranked 45th in “Out” magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America”.
As a member of “We, the Black Coalition” André Leon Talley has used his influence and power to make the world of high fashion more diverse and more inclusive. He recently implored the industry to use its power for good, and showcase the beauty of all people. He has especially been vocal about the need for more Black models on runways, in magazines and in advertising and marketing.
Shoe maestro Manolo Blahnik said in 2010 “André doesn’t have fashion. André himself is fashion.” Talley is, by any account, one of the most authoritative voices in the industry, offering his encyclopedic knowledge of design as a critic, columnist, television personality, and all-around inspiration. He spends much of his time now conducting red-carpet interviews at the Met Gala, the Oscars and other high-profile, fashion-forward events. You can view a timeline of his work at Vogue here: http://www.vogue.com/tag/celebrity/andre-leon-talley/
We join André Leon Talley on this day to celebrate his 65th Birthday, and thank him for his fierce style, his indomitable spirit, and his many contributions to our community.
Copyright © MMXIV Stephen A. Maglott. I’m not fond of lawyers, but I have one anyway. She insist that I inform you that permission to share this biography or any portion thereof, on an online service or blog other than Facebook, must be granted in writing by yours truly (Stephen Maglott). Please feel free however, to share this post with others on Facebook.
* If you enjoy these biographical tributes to same-gender loving/Trans men and women of African descent, please “like” the Ubuntu Biography Project page! And then go back and select “Get Notifications”. (https://www.facebook.com/UbuntuBiographyProject) Thank you.