Remembering André Léon Talley


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Style Points is a weekly column on how fashion intersects with the rest of the world.

What you need to know about André Leon Talley is that he contained multitudes. He was as comfortable in the front row of a couture show as he was on the couch at Watch what’s happening live, as comfortable in the white-hot center of a party as he was in his real home, surrounded by his books. He could go from discussing some obscure point in art history or French court life or the world of the mundane swans of the past to a seamless transition to light-hearted gossip.

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Everyone belonged to his world and he defended people whose greatness fashion did not always recognize in time. When the industry was at its most exclusive, the legendary journalist, who died yesterday at 73, was a conduit to those who felt like outsiders, a missile in search of talent who remained loyal to those he supported, by especially when it came to advocating for black designers and models. When you watch footage of him, he usually throws his head back laughing or hugging everyone in his general vicinity, bringing everyone together. It was exactly who he was.

andre leon talley

Talley laughing with Naomi Campbell in 1989.

Ron Galella, Ltd.

The world probably knew him best through the monologue where he laments the “beauty famine” plaguing the fashion world, and that’s not a bad summary of his approach to life. He needed even little things to sing beautifully, the kind of things most people might not even notice – for example, when he held his Oscar de la Renta retrospective at the SCAD Museum of Art, he insisted that models’ feet be decorated with ribbons. And when you entered this exhibition, you were greeted by a wall of flowers; a harvest of almost obscene beauty.

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But behind this obsession with surfaces, there was an unacknowledged depth. And an unacknowledged pain. It was there in the pages of his memoirs, Chiffon trench coats, where he wrote candidly about the exclusion and racism he had faced in the industry, and in every frame of his documentary, The Gospel According to Andrew. Joy was by no means a facade, but it sometimes hid the ruminative, introspective side of his personality. What he did in the face of these experiences, however, was perhaps the most important choice he made: he channeled his energy into supporting others, as if to ensure that the next generation would not encounter not the obstacles he had to overcome.

andre leon talley

Talley with model Pat Cleveland.

Patrick McMullan

The first time we spoke, I got a window into how his mind worked. I was interviewing her for a fashion history project I was supervising. New York magazine. The ostensible topic of conversation was John Galliano and the spring 1994 collection, known as the São Schlumberger show, which brought the designer back to the brink of bankruptcy as he slept on his studio floor. Talley helped secure Schlumberger’s venue and asked Manolo Blahnik to provide shoes. Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell signed on to walk for free because they believed in the vision. It was a typical André moment: bringing everyone together in the service of something beautiful.

andre leon talley

Talley with Diane von Furstenberg.

Dimitrios Kambouris

As he resurfaces 20-year-old memories, those trademark digressions were already beginning: He got poetic about shopping McDonald’s and serving as the show’s usher. Then he wanted to know what else I would cover. I said I was working on a punk story, the conversation turned to Vivienne Westwood, and he said I had to go down to Savannah, where he would present the creator with the Lifetime Achievement Award. It all seemed unreal, but here I was a few months later, on stage asking them questions, then having dinner with the punk legend and fashion eminence on a rowdy night where Miss J Alexander we drove in a round of trail rides. (The print included Naomi, Kate, and “Naomi when she has a plane to catch.”) A group of strangers had formed into a fashion family. I felt like a clumsy, jagged puzzle piece, but suddenly I realized I belonged. A great editor knows how to put things together in precisely the right way, including people, just like Talley did that night.

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