André Leon Talley, influential fashion journalist and former editor of American Vogue under Anna Wintour, has died aged 73.
TMZ reported that Talley died in a New York hospital on Tuesday of an unknown illness. His death was later confirmed by his literary agent, David Vigliano.
A larger-than-life figure – and standing six-foot-seven tall – Talley was a pioneering figure in the fashion world, known for his biting commentary and flamboyant presence like the caftans, hats and dresses he frequently wore. In a career that spanned six decades, Talley used her position to champion diversity on the catwalks and behind the scenes in the fashion world.
Designer and close friend Diane von Furstenberg was among those paying tribute on Wednesday. “Goodbye darling André…no one has seen the world more glamorously than you,” she wrote. “No one was bigger and more moving than you.”
Playwright Jeremy O’Harris wrote: ‘For a little black gay boy who reached the southern stars, there were few people I could look up to up there among the stars who just looked more fabulous to me other than you Andre .
“For a generation of boys, André Leon Talley was a beacon of grace and aspiration.”
Born in 1948 and raised in North Carolina during the Jim Crow era, Talley has always been a fashion advocate, recalling in his 2020 memoir The Chiffon Trenches how he visited his local library to read copies of Vogue magazine, who came to embody a world in which “bad things never happened”. Speaking to the Guardian in 2020, Talley recalled students at his university stoned him as he walked across campus on Sundays to buy Vogue.
Her fashion career began with an internship for former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1974. Vreeland, impressed with her skills, introduced Talley to contacts at Andy Warhol’s Factory and Interview magazine, where he worked as a receptionist. He began writing for publications such as W and the New York Times, but it was at American Vogue that he made a name for himself, rising through the ranks to become the magazine’s information director, then creative director until 1995, date of his departure. He returned to the magazine three years later and remained its editor until 2013.
Talley’s long working relationship with Vogue editor Anna Wintour would become the main selling point of his second memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, in which Talley took a ruthless jab at his former boss. Talley felt he had fallen out of favor because “I had suddenly become too old, too overweight, and too cool.” Wintour, he wrote, was incapable of “mere human kindness” and “never truly passionate about clothes.” Power was his passion. In the book, he also detailed the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, as well as the racism and sizeism he encountered throughout his life.
He felt “at home” in the fashion world, he once told the Guardian, because “there were no casualties, only boosted egos”.
In 2021, he was softer on Wintour, telling the Cup: “She’s the Empress. She’s worked hard. She’s been through a lot of battles. She deserves everything they give her. At 72, having this work is very, very, very impressive. I wish him all the best.
Talley was also a judge on America’s Next Top Model and, in 2008, became the Obama family’s fashion advisor. He interviewed Michelle Obama for Vogue when she stepped into the role of first lady in 2009, later calling her “America’s most fashionable woman”. But in 2020 he publicly criticized the Obamas for throwing a birthday party during the Covid pandemic, told the New York Times“I think the new rich Obamas are seriously deaf…the Obamas are in Marie Antoinette mode, pantyhose, let them eat cake. They must remember their humble roots.
Talley has never publicly defined his sexuality, calling himself “fluid”. He had never been in a relationship, he once said, which he attributed to being abused as a child. “I gave everything to my career” he told the New York Times. “Diane von Furstenberg said, ‘He was afraid to fall in love,’ and I guess he was. I guess I was scared, and I guess I was repressed. I grew up in a very strict household. But to be in this world, to move with all these incredible people… it was enough for me to have the friendship of Karl or the friendship of Yves Saint Laurent or the friendship of Azzedine Alaïa.
Talley wrote two memoirs and was the subject of the 2018 documentary The Gospel According to André.
When asked if he would have been happier working outside of fashion, Talley said no. “My story is a fairy tale of excess, and in every fairy tale there is evil and darkness, but you overcome them with light,” he once told the Guardian. “I want everyone I meet – the stranger in the street, the church member in the pew next to me – to feel love.”