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Andre Leon Talley and the Flowers he Left Behind: 5 Lessons Learned

For a lot of people, fashion is function. It’s necessary utility with very little to offer outside of that. For the late, great, Andre Leon Talley, fashion was a form of art, self-expression, luxury, and escapism. To him, the pages of Vogue were more than gloss-covered paper bound for the fiscal satisfaction of advertisers. These pages were both his safety and the foundation upon which he built his dreams.

Understanding the depth of Mr. Tally’s life, morality, and work taught fashion enthusiasts worldwide – specifically enthusiasts of color—the true meaning of kindness, empathy, patience, devotion, and commitment to one’s purpose. Mr. Talley dared to take his dreams to places unimaginable for Black, southern, and queer men during his time. He made fashion his life, studying and storing magnificent amounts of industry knowledge —so much so, that the fashion world sees a visible black hole where his light used to shine. Throughout his career, He ruffled the right feathers and made extremely powerful friends all while being Black, tall, and infinitely fabulous.

As we mourn the loss of such a magnanimous legend and reflect on his life and impact, we take this opportunity to highlight the life and lessons he left behind, for which we are forever grateful.

Here are 5 lessons learned from Andre Leon Talley:

1. Knowledge is key.

Adre Leon Talley and Diana Vreeland 1974Andre and Diana are adjusting a garment on a manequin
Adre Leon Talley and Diana Vreeland 1974- Photo credit Bill Cunningham foundation

It is a well-known fact that if you wanted to know anything about fashion, down to historical references and lesser-known fashion industry tea, Andre Leon Talley was your guy. Talley built a reputation as a human fashion encyclopedia. He was sought after by designers, socialites, muses, and high-end publications for his knowledge, expertise, and opinion on all things fashion.

Talley spent his life learning and taking in information from fashion shows, books, and magazines and applying that information to both his personal life and professional pursuits. His opinion and knowledge opened the most amazing doors and made him a trusted advisor for fashion elites like Anna Wintour, even when they were not on speaking terms. Knowledge is not something anyone can take away from you. If you hold that knowledge, you will always be a powerful force.

2. Relationships are to be cherished. People are not disposable.

Throughout Talley’s life, he built amazingly close friendships with the likes of Diana Vreeland, Karl Lagerfeld, Ana Wintour, Yves Saint Laurent, Peter Berge, Betty Catroux, Paloma Picasso, Naomi Campbell, and many more. Not only did these friendships help him reach amazing heights in his career as a journalist, editor, creative director, and critic, they also taught him invaluable life lessons. Through these friendships (and the dissolution of some of these friendships), he learned more lessons about his value as a human and what it takes to have a long-lasting and powerful impact in the lives of others.

Every relationship that Talley has had in his life, from the relationship with his mother and grandmother to the fallouts with Lagerfeld and Wintour, formed his ideology of kindness, expression, and morality. All experiences are cherished.

Andre Leon Talley and Diana Ross at a New Years Eve party at Studio 54 in New York andcing
Andre Leon Talley and Diana Ross at a New Years Eve party at Studio 54 in New York- Photo credit- Fairchild Archive/ Penske Media

3. Always be kind, even when kindness isn’t returned.

As one of the only Black men in his profession at the time, Talley faced his fair share of adversity. In his New York Times Best Selling memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, released in May of 2020, he documented the many experiences in the fashion industry and in his youth in which he had to deal with otherwise intolerable personalities that showed him very little respect.

As adored as he was, not everyone liked the idea of this large, flamboyant, Black man taking up space where someone they thought more suitable for the job could be. Despite it all, Talley moved with his head high, in all his grandeur, and shocked people with the amount of kindness he showed, despite it all. He let it be known that kindness was easy and free.

Andre Leon Talley and Anna Wintour sitting at a fashion event
Andre Leon Talley and Anna Wintour – Photo Credit Eugene Gologursky/ WireImage

4. To be human is to make mistakes.

Andre Leon Talley Walking carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag
Andre Leon Talley - Photo source unknown

Talley was always open with his regrets and attributed them to being human. He was able to celebrate himself through his life’s regrets and was bold enough to pass down the stories of his mistakes to the ones following in his footsteps in his memoir and documentary The Gospel According to Andre (2018). Talley did not let his mistakes define him. Instead, he put them on a pedestal for everyone to see as a demonstration of how to take the baton he passed on and continue the race without repeating those mistakes.

5. Always expect the best from life and nothing less.

More than anything, Andre Leon Talley was fabulous and settled for nothing less. He celebrated glamor and individuality. He normalized luxury in his life despite what was going on at any given moment—or in the bank, for that matter. He made sure that he was surrounded by people and things that made his life beautiful and showed us that luxury and beauty are attainable. Through his choice of dress in his custom suits and Tom Ford custom-made kaftans, he taught us that it’s okay to stand out, be bold, beautiful, and thrive. The world is watching.

Andre Leon Talley, Naomi Campbell, and Friends sitting on a couch posing and laughing
Andre Leon Talley, Naomi Campbell, and Friends- Photo source unknown

We are thrilled that we were able to give him his flowers while he was still here, but not very often do we talk about the flowers people leave behind for us when they’re gone. Andre Leon Talley made space for us. He chose a path no one like him treaded before, and did it all while wearing custom Charvet. There will never be another like him.

Learn more about Andre Leon Talley's life, pains, and accomplishments in his award-winning memoir, The Chiffon Trenches.

"During André Leon Talley’s first magazine job, alongside Andy Warhol at Interview, a fateful meeting with Karl Lagerfeld began a decades-long friendship with the enigmatic, often caustic designer. Propelled into the upper echelons by his knowledge and adoration of fashion, André moved to Paris as bureau chief of John Fairchild’s Women’s Wear Daily, befriending fashion's most important designers (Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta). But as André made friends, he also made enemies. A racially tinged encounter with a member of the house of Yves Saint Laurent sent him back to New York and into the offices of Vogue under Grace Mirabella.

There, he eventually became creative director, developing an unlikely but intimate friendship with Anna Wintour. As she rose to the top of Vogue’s masthead, André also ascended, and soon became the most influential man in fashion.

The Chiffon Trenches offers a candid look at the who’s who of the last fifty years of fashion. At once ruthless and empathetic, this engaging memoir tells with raw honesty the story of how André not only survived the brutal style landscape but thrived—despite racism, illicit rumors, and all the other challenges of this notoriously cutthroat industry—to become one of the most renowned voices and faces in fashion.

Woven throughout the book are also André’s own personal struggles that impacted him over the decades, along with intimate stories of those he turned to for inspiration (Diana Vreeland, Diane von Fürstenberg, Lee Radziwill, to name a few), and of course his Southern roots and faith, which guided him since childhood.

The result is a highly compelling read that captures the essence of a world few of us will ever have real access to, but one that we all want to know oh so much more about."

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