On a recent flight back to California, I watched a documentary about André Leon Talley: The Gospel According to André, Vogue magazine’s former editor at large and famed fashion journalist discusses his life and his rise in the fashion industry. To me, he is a wonderful expression of the multi-faceted reality of who Americans can be. Learning about his humble beginnings in North Carolina while in the Jim Crow era South where segregation was clear, he experienced firsthand the ugliness of racism. At the age of 10, he found an issue of Vogue magazine at the local library where began his passion for fashion. Talley studied French literature at the North Carolina Central University where he graduated in 1970. He went on to earn a Master’s in French literature from Brown University in 1972.
During the beginning of his career, he worked for Andy Warhol and volunteered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After this, he worked for Women’s Wear Daily and W magazines. He continued on to work with the New York Times and then (finally!) Vogue. In the documentary, he repeats the word Vogue with a flair that emphasizes how incredibly special the publication is: “Vogue! Vogue… Vogue!!” Through this repetition, he also highlights the importance of the cultural impact that Vogue has had on a global culture that we exist in now.
Talley’s ability to be honest about the difficult upbringing he had is poignant; he was not always embraced by his family for being who he was and what was remarkable was his strength to continue on being true to himself. To me, André Leon Talley is an American icon extraordinaire, a vessel of historical information of fashion, a native of the American South, and most importantly, a fierce believer in pursuing the work that you are most passionate for.
I was intrigued by his discussion in the documentary of how he has yet to fall in love during his life so far, but that he has loved his work and let that be the center of his life. On some level, I found it inspiring that Talley is an example of where a passion for work can take someone, be it whatever path they choose.
Hats off to André, what an incredible story and man.