From childhood, André Leon Talley has loved beautiful things. It has been an official year since his death today, and the void he has left has not gone unnoticed. “My eyes are starving for glamour,” he said in the documentary The September Issue. His backstory is one of true tenacity and fervor; as in his book The Chiffon Trenches, he speaks of the blatant racism and fatphobia that would serve as a constant obstacle in his career regardless of his abundant talents to create visuals and write words that would be referenced and talked about to this day.
Remember the editorial he made with Naomi Cambell? It was “Scarlet N’ The Hood” for Vanity Fair; he styled the story based on the film Gone With The Wind, and looking back, that changed things for Black fashion. From his days as an editor for Vogue, as the very first Black man to be the Creative Director, to his earliest beginnings even working with Andy Warhol at Interview Magazine, Talley has always known beauty and how to establish it in its rightful place. When he was a judge on America’s Next Top Model, he stood up for a model’s picture that was being harshly critiqued by the other judges. He told them it was emphatically beautiful and saved her from elimination.
He loved extravagance, often wearing dramatic tailored capes with intricate prints and fur hats before that trend was a trend. In every room he walked in, he commanded attention, whether intentionally or not. Now that the late fashion pioneer has passed, his collection of beautiful things is going up for auction at Christie’s at his own request in his will, which specifically asked that most of his collection of items be given to two different churches, Abyssinian Baptist Church and Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, (that he was an active member of). The church was the first place he witnessed extravagance; “Sunday best” was not just a colloquialism but a way of life in the south, specifically in Durham, North Carolina. His grandmother has been attributed to his love of luxury and glamour, giving him a deep understanding of what makes something beautiful. Fashion critic Robin Givhan even said that he used church as a starting point for how he judged beauty.
In church, they talk about coming into the world alone and leaving the same way, but when the news hit that André Leon Talley had passed, one of the last true observers of beauty, it felt like the other way around. He left the world and took with him the purposefulness of beauty and grace with him. In the face of Jim Crow laws as a young boy facing a new set of the social paradox that is the fashion industry, he still accomplished bringing beauty to the world in his nearly five-decade-long career in fashion.
The sadness felt by not being able to see his signature capes and suits on display at a museum is felt throughout industry insiders who, of course, respect his wishes but wish there could be an exhibition before everything sells. A few things are being donated to the Savannah College of Art and Design. Hopefully, those items will be created in an exhibition, as Talley was a great trailblazer and contributor to the fashion industry. What better way to be honored than by showing the world your affinity for beauty and all its potential?