How Do You Say Goodbye To An Icon?


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Au revoir, mon cher

As the world mourns the passing of family, friends, and celebrities this week, we have also lost a trailblazing national hero, André Leon Talley.  Heralded as "the pharaoh of fabulosity", "the Nelson Mandela of couture, the Kofi Annan of what you got on" (, "the high priest of fashion"(Madonna),  he never let his color, sexuality, or humble beginnings define who he was – ever. He left very few stones unturned in his brilliant career of over five decades. He was a shining luminary, iconic innovator, trendsetter, and OG influencer.

In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares André Leon Talley's impact on the world of fashion, publishing, culture, and more.

How Do You Say Goodbye To An Icon

A Passion For Fashion

Born in 1949 and raised in Durham, North Carolina, during the Jim Crow era, his upbringing and education were never neglected. Raised by his blue-collar worker grandparents – and his fashion-forward grandmother in particular (a janitor at Duke University), she taught him the value of education and culture early on. They attended church together every Sunday wearing their Sunday Best – one of the very few times the African American and minority communities could assemble in faith and excellence through inspired and celebratory dressing. Generally speaking, this was typically reserved for the wealthy, privileged, white America. Talley's front-row view of this pageantry and elegance inspired a lifelong and groundbreaking career in fashion.

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Bright Lights, Big City

When other kids were putting up photos of heartthrobs of the day, he was decorating his bedroom walls with Diana Vreeland’s editorials at Vogue, where she served as Editor in Chief from 1963-1971. In 1974 she became Talley’s first mentor as he apprenticed at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was so impressed that she introduced him to Andy Warhol, Warhol’s Factory scene, and WWD, thus beginning his meteoric rise in fashion.

Talley earned a Bachelor’s Degree in French Literature from North Carolina Central University. He was then awarded a scholarship to Brown University, where he earned a Master’s Degree in French Literature. Soon after, at 21 years old, he was offered a job at American Vogue. As Talley stood 6’6” tall, his presence was instantly known. Regal and statuesque, and armed with impeccable knowledge of the French language, he continued to pursue his dreams unabashedly. It was no surprise in 1983 when Vogue named him Fashion News Director - a position he held until 1987. He was then promoted to Vogue’s first-ever African American male Creative Director - making him one of the few African Americans among the fashion elite.

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His shoes, some say, will be impossible to fill. As Whoopi Goldberg states in The Gospel According to André – currently streaming on Hulu she regards him as one of the very few Black people attending fashion shows. “He was like the Black Rockette…he was the one,” she says. And as we all know now, in 2022, representation matters. And it matters a lot. 

There were, of course, pioneers in fashion before Talley. Namely, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a formerly enslaved person in the 1800s, turned seamstress to Mary Todd Lincoln. And also Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes - who Hugh Hefner commissioned in 1958 to design the first-ever Playboy Bunny Costumes.

From the 1970s onward, Talley surrounded himself with a growing inner circle of African American supermodels that he counted as friends and colleagues: Donyale Luna, Pat Cleaveland, Beverly Johnson, Naomi Sims, Iman, Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell, and Tyra Banks, to name a few. Together they harnessed their energies to exalt and amplify Black voices in fashion. Talley played a particularly critical role amongst this group because he was the only one on the publishing side that could fight for their bookings and images to run in each issue month to month.

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Talley and his community of stalwarts lit the path for many other minority trailblazers. In 2017 British Vogue appointed Edward Enninful the Editor in Chief of British Vogue, making him their first-ever black Editor in Chief. Then in 2018, Virgil Abloah, streetwear designer to brand Off-White and Kanye West protégé, was appointed Creative Director of Menswear for Louis Vuitton at LVMH – a position he held up until his untimely death in late 2021.

Talley was widely considered one of the last great fashion editors due to his incredible sense of fashion history, culture, language, thirst for knowledge, humor, and fostering up-and-coming designers and talent. His creative foresight and involvement in the zeitgeist of pop culture dictated trends and established Vogue as the authoritative publication of all things fashion. His legacy lives on through the lives he touched with his humor, opulence, kind hearted-ness, and humility.

We celebrate Andre Leon Talley with this collection of images cataloging his upbringing, early years in NYC, work within fashion & Vogue, penchant for outlandish and over the top clothing (capes, anyone?), and an absolutely fabulous clip from The September Issue of him playing tennis in full Louis Vuitton gear. 

In January 2021 Talley was interviewed on camera for UGG, reflecting on his life, here is a link.

A joy, a light, and a legend.

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Eager To Learn More?

Here are a few more blogs featuring fashion, pop culture, and diversity, check them out!

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