The Quiet Activism of André Leon Talley

Vogue’s first Black male creative director dazzled with his outsized personal style and powerful, behind-the-scenes influence

Lauren S. Cardon
ZORA
Published in
5 min readJan 21, 2022

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Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

André Leon Talley was 73 when he passed away on January 18, 2022, but his experience, groundbreaking achievements, and love for life, family, and fashion seemed expansive enough to span several lifetimes. The first Black male creative director for Vogue and a glamorous fashion icon who partied at Studio 54, hobnobbed with Andy Warhol and Karl Lagerfeld, and authored two books, A.L.T. and The Chiffon Trenches, Talley was also a reverent, contemplative man who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, going to Sunday church with his grandmother. The theme connecting his different worlds was fashion, which he discovered when he came upon an issue of Vogue at his local library. As a young boy in the Jim Crow South, the glossy pages featuring Black models like Pat Cleveland and Naomi Sims represented a totally different world, one that seemed to celebrate diversity — “an escape from reality,” as Talley would later put it.

After earning a Master of Arts degree in French literature from Brown University in 1972, an apprenticeship with Diana Vreeland at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art led Talley to jobs at magazines like Interview, W, Women’s Wear

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Lauren S. Cardon
ZORA
Writer for

Lauren S. Cardon is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Alabama. Her books include FASHIONING CHARACTER and FASHION AND FICTION.