André Leon Talley was larger than life

Words by
Andy Morris
Photography by

19th January 2022

The longtime creative director of Vogue has passed away at the age of 73. We shall not see his like again.

André Leon Talley was a man of principles. He believed fundamentally in the transformative power of beauty. He believed fashion could, and should, be something to be taken seriously. He spoke with the authority of having travelled the world and befriended the art and fashion world’s greats (Picasso, Von Furstenberg, Warhol, Saint Laurent, Lagerfeld, Elbaz). Nothing came easy: he had to force people to listen and respect him, particularly in the more racist corners of the fashion world (he was once dubbed ‘Queen Kong’ by a rival, a barb that still hurt years later).

Not only did the indomitable Talley embody his own fabulousness but also with the awareness that he was often the most well read person in the room. He loved magazines and newspapers, in all their petty rivalries and hierarchies - for instance, he took great delight in telling the New York Times that only a reporter from the Paris Match would be visiting him directly, everyone else would have to see via Zoom.

He advocated that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing with some style: the much loved scene of him playing tennis with Louis Vuitton accessories in The September Issue predated luxury fashion’s love of sportswear by at least a decade. As athleisure advocate Kim Jones said in his own tribute "
Rest in peace André Leon Talley who taught us all what luxury could be."

Talley remained fiercely loyal to his two biggest influences (his grandmother and Diana Vreeland, the former editor of Vogue) and diplomatic (mostly) in terms of dealing with Condé Nast hierarchy and Anna Wintour. For instance, when Vogue's Kamala Harris cover was criticised for the outfit choices and choice of background, he came to Wintour's defence. "Excellence is required and while fashion is always the core issue ,yet the cultural pendulum swings. After all, no one is wearing a stiletto everyday during COVID..... Take me down. Clapback at me on social media. All I can say is Anna Wintour is not abdicating."

Talley believed that the fashion industry should be kinder - that those who feted him when he was on the front row, should still care for him when he was in his seventies and battling ill health. Having written two memoirs and one documentary, one can rest easy that he received the praise he craved during his lifetime... but one senses it was never going to be enough. He was a truly groundbreaking, a true fashion pioneer - as British Vogue editor Edward Enninful commented this morning, “Without you there is no me.”