REMEMBERING ANDRÉ: The life of the late pioneering fashion journalist and author André Leon Talley will be celebrated Friday morning at a private ceremony at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan.
Talley, who died in January at the age of 73, forged new paths in the industry during a decades-long career that included stops at Interview magazine, Women’s Wear Daily and his tenure at Vogue as its longtime creative director, as well Numero Russia and Vanity Fair. A swath of friends, fellow designers, industry executives and family members will be out in force at the event, which is being held in the historic landmark church where Talley attended services.
Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts 3rd will officiate, and musical standout Valerie Simpson and the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir will perform. The invitation-only gathering is expected to not just center on Talley’s work but also who he was as a person and how he inspired future generations.
Marc Jacobs, Naomi Campbell, Bethann Hardison, Anna Wintour and Carolina Herrera are among the fashion designers who are expected Friday to pay tribute. Alexis Thomas, Brian Nunn and the Savannah College of Art and Design’s leader Paula Wallace will also share insights about Talley’s life.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Durham, N.C., by his maternal grandmother, who was a cleaning woman at Duke University, Talley rose through the ranks of the fashion industry, often the first Black man to reach such heights. Unmissable at 6 feet, 6 inches, he commanded a room with his booming baritone voice, towering presence and custom capes. After earning undergraduate and master’s degrees at Brown University, Talley relocated to New York, apprenticing for the ultimate style arbiter Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Adept at understanding how fashion defines identity, Talley understood how it could wash away stereotypes and prejudices.
Having experienced racism in and out of fashion, Talley chronicled some of those experiences in two biographies, “The Chiffon Trenches” — a New York Times bestseller — and “A.L.T.: A Memoir.” A 2021 recipient of the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, he also was honored with the Eugenia Sheppard Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
In honor of Talley, SCAD is bringing back its André Leon Talley Award after a temporary hiatus due to the pandemic, which put the school’s annual fashion show on ice. This year’s honoree will be awarded to SCAD graduate Christopher John Rogers, according to Wallace.
Wallace said von Furstenberg agreed that Rogers was the “most appropriate choice.” Wallace added, “She is going to help me honor Christopher [John Rogers]. And at the same time, we will be honoring André [Leon Talley] by renewing his award, which he presented for so many years at SCAD to other designers.”
Miuccia Prada, Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang and Isabel Toledo were among the previous recipients of Talley’s namesake award. Wallace said, “Of course, he was always the one who selected [the] nominee. Recently, Diane and I were talking about it and she really suggested that we should present the award. I said, ‘Who should we present the award to?’ She said, ‘Christopher John Rogers — of course.’”
Talley and Wallace first met in 2000 and his influence on SCAD and many of its students and graduates can be seen in different ways. Along with the award, there is an André Leon Talley gallery on the Savannah campus. The longtime Vogue creative director also served on the school’s board of trustees for more than 12 years. “His presence will always be felt at SCAD,” Wallace said.
As for what Talley might want students to hold onto, Wallace said, “I think he would want them to be brave and he would want them to be unapologetically themselves. That’s what he did.”
Wallace, who will be among the speakers at Friday’s tribute, has been leafing through her many memories of Talley recently. Asked how Talley would want to be remembered in the fashion industry, Wallace noted how erudite he was. “He really was a font of knowledge. He was such a larger-than-life person that maybe his personality might have — in some people’s minds — overshadowed his actual knowledge.”
Emphasizing what a knowledgeable person Talley was, Wallace said that with what seemed to be a photographic memory, he could recount all the fashion shows that he had ever seen, which is kind of stupendous to think about. But he did. He was a historian, a writer, a connector of people, too,” Wallace said.