He Wasn't Just A Pioneer: How The Late André Leon Talley Helped Open Doors For The Black Community On a Global Scale
The 73-year-old fashion mogul didn’t only inspire the Black community to live out their dreams, but also started a lasting conversation so that the LGBTQ+ community could feel accepted in a world that tried so hard to cast them aside.
January 21, 2022 at 8:35 pm
“The impact André Leon Talley has had on the industry is immeasurable. The proof is in the outpour following the news of his death late last night from friends, family, peers and people who may have never met him yet felt his powerful force and influence in their lives. He was not merely an inspiration, but a pioneer in opening these doors for others to follow,” said Ty Gaskins, style editor for Grazia magazine.
André Leon Talley, world-renowned journalist, former editor of Vogue and a leading pioneer within the fashion industry, didn’t only inspire the Black community to live out their dreams, but also opened up doors for aspiring Black professionals to make their mark within an exclusive world.
The 73-year-old fashion mogul's influence transcended beyond his memoir, The Chiffon Trenches. He stood the test of time in a period that could not stand him. As an early adolescent, the young Southern native grew up not seeing many Black trailblazers within the fashion industry. Even though Talley was brought up in the Jim Crow South, he seamlessly maneuvered his way to stardom without letting anyone or anything stop him from fulfilling his destiny.
As a result of Talley's lasting mark on the fashion industry during a time that was, and still is, not fully inclusive of Black people and minorities, he set the precedent that Black professionals can believe that they can aim to dream big.
André tore down the idea that young Black professionals need to succumb to a traditional career path.
As one of the industry's most revolutionary Black faces, Talley allowed Black professionals to feel seen, heard and appreciated in a world that tried so hard to cast them aside. Talley essentially opened up the timeless world of fashion as a potential professional option by changing limiting societal narratives that praise traditional career paths.
"In his 2017 biopic, The Gospel According to André, he says, ‘Clothes are my security blanket, and my outfits are my armor against the world of the chiffon trenches.’ As a youth deciding on my path in life, I would rewind and play these words on repeat, and it wasn’t until then I felt my calling was fashion despite the nontraditional route it would be from my peers," said Gaskins in his personal letter, “Remembering André Leon Talley.”
Talley not only tore down old foundations but also sought to change the way creatives viewed their potential and capabilities. In Gaskin's personal letter to André, he further recalled the significance the late arbiter of style had on Gaskin's self-worth and inner confidence to go after his dream of becoming a fashion writer.
"ALT approached me and said, ‘So tell me about you,’ I went on to tell him about my role at the time as a designer’s publicist, and he politely interrupts me and says, ‘no, tell me about you,’” Gaskins wrote. "I then opened up about my love for editorial, freelance writing on the side and wanting to commit to my dream as a writer fully, and his response was, ‘do it, I can see it in you — you’re off to a great track you just have to do it.’”
He paved the way for Black professionals to aim higher within their fashion careers.
A not-so-usual sight back then, Talley was the trailblazer others aspired to be. His career began shortly after working as an assistant to Andy Warhol at Interview magazine, and he later worked as an apprentice to the late Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. The lavishly dressed personality went on to become the Paris bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily in 1975.
Talley also became the first African American man to serve as creative director for Vogue in 1988, ultimately putting him on the map within the lucrative industry of art and fashion.
Because of his impressive résumé, the noteworthy trailblazer became a role model for Black professionals and inspired them to dream for bigger roles within the fashion world.
Notably outlined in an interview with the digital platform Fashionista, the noteworthy writer and fashion editor Amira Rasool recalled becoming aware of Talley via the documentary The September Issue and discussed the impact he had on her fashion career.
"Talley's mere presence at Vogue was an act of rebellion, and, as a self-proclaimed teenage rebel myself, I knew I wanted to be a part of this rebellious movement. Without seeing Talley in that film, I'm not sure if I would have dreamed big enough to ever think I would have a Vogue.com byline only two years out of college," Rasool told Fashionista.
In addition to Talley having a direct impact on Rasool, British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful gave a heartfelt tribute to Talley on Instagram, stating, "Without you, there would be no me."
He opened up a doorway for the Black community to feel that they belonged in an exclusive industry.
For centuries, Black men and women have been subjected to a negative gaze caused by societal stereotypes that have told us we need to be less than or succumb to how others envision us to be. In this case, Talley changed those barriers by opening up a doorway for the Black community so that they could feel they belonged, and as a 6-foot, 6-inch, queer Black man, he ignored what the world's definition of "normal."
"Black people sometimes feel compelled to make ourselves smaller — to both be and not be. Don’t talk or laugh too loud lest you attract negative attention,” said Renée Graham, editor and columnist for The Boston Globe, in a recent column. "Don’t be too opinionated or you’ll be viewed as difficult or, if you’re a Black woman, angry, Don’t carry your whole self wherever you go because that could make some white people uncomfortable. Talley, who died Tuesday, ignored those restrictions."
Talley's prominent titles, such as serving as Vogue's editor-at-large, creative director and fashion news director from the 1980s to recent times, all indicate one thing — the late fashion mogul could do and has done it all. His inspiring force within fashion helped break and defy the barriers of what a Black man in power looks like, despite the odds that said otherwise.
“Although I never met or worked with André Leon Talley, I first became aware of his impact on the fashion industry very early on when I was in undergrad and graduate school in the ’80s," Hamilton and West Side Story costume designer Paul Tazewell told Blavity News. “Talley was an inspiration for me as one of the very few visible Black faces of power in an industry that was very white-washed … much like the theater industry had been at that time for me, but on a grander scale."
Tazewell added, "ALT transcended ceilings and tore down limiting walls as he allowed other bright young talents to ride in on the spirit of his mighty coattail. I will forever appreciate his audacity and fearless insistence to live boldly."
He was an inspiration for young Black creatives on a global scale.
Within the 73-year timespan of his life, Talley was a dominating force within and outside the fashion industry, and his achievements opened up a doorway for Black creatives to feel as though they could aspire to become leading legends within their own countries.
In a recent social media post, the world-renowned British model Naomi Campbell penned a tribute to the late Vogue editor by touching on her and Talley's trip to Nigeria in 2019, where she discussed visiting young Nigerian creatives that were inspired by his influence.
"Everyone said you would cancel on me last minute and I refused to believe .. and there you came to Lagos with a wheelchair and all, and you embraced everyone and everyone embraced you," she recalled. "You were animated, fun, and seeing all the young Nigerian creatives sitting at your feet taking notes with admiration, to going to church on Easter Sunday in Lagos of which you said coming to Africa was like an epiphany for you .. Seeing you so happy and in your zone is how I choose to remember you."
Talley's influence on the Black community has proven time and time again exactly why he was a force to be reckoned with. He ultimately led the fashion industry in a new direction by highlighting the many issues of racism and discrimination that were often covered up. He shined a light for Black men and women, so that they could believe and dream of seeing a day when they will be the next class of leading trailblazers in an industry that was not originally made for them to succeed.
"How many African American or any diverse ethnic individuals do you have at the heads of any of the high niche magazines or high niche design brands? You can count them on one finger,” Talley told HuffPost in 2014. “How many people are there that have broken the glass ceiling? There are very, very few.”
Though now gone, he will never be forgotten; forever he lives and forever we shall live in the chiffon trenches.