REMEMBERING ANDRE: The life of the late fashion journalist and author André Leon Talley will be celebrated Friday morning in a private ceremony at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan.
Talley, who died in January at the age of 73, blazed new trails in the industry during a decades-long career that included stops at Interview magazine, Women’s Wear Daily and her tenure at Vogue as longtime creative director, as well as Numero Russia and Salon de la Vanité. A group of friends, fellow designers, industry executives and family members will be out in force at the event, which will be held in the historic church where Talley attended services.
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Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts 3rd will officiate, and musical star Valerie Simpson and the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir will perform. The invite-only gathering is expected to not only focus 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 set to pay tribute on Friday. Alexis Thomas, Brian Nunn and Savannah College of Art and Design leader Paula Wallace will also share information about Talley’s life.
Born in Washington, DC, and raised in Durham, North Carolina, by his maternal grandmother, who was a cleaning lady at Duke University, Talley rose through the ranks of the fashion industry, often the first man black to reach such heights. A must-have at 6ft 6in, he commissioned a piece with his booming baritone voice, commanding presence and custom capes. After earning undergraduate and master’s degrees at Brown University, Talley moved to New York City, apprenticed for 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 eliminate 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 “ALT: A Memoir.” The 2021 winner of the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, he also received the Eugenia Sheppard Prize 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 winner 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’s going to help me honor Christopher [John Rogers]. And at the same time, we will pay tribute to André [Leon Talley] 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 previous recipients of Talley’s namesake award. Wallace said: “Of course, he was always the one who chose [the] candidate. Lately, Diane and I were talking about it and she really suggested that we give 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 many different ways. Along with the prize, there is an André Leon Talley Gallery on the Savannah campus. Vogue’s longtime creative director also served on the school’s board for more than 12 years. “His presence will always be felt at SCAD,” Wallace said.
As for what Talley might want the students to cling to, Wallace said, “I think he would want them to be brave and to be unabashedly themselves. That’s what he did.
Wallace, who will be among the speakers at Friday’s tribute, recently flipped through his many memories of Talley. When asked how Talley would like to be remembered in the fashion industry, Wallace noted how erudite he was. “He was truly a source of knowledge. He was such a larger-than-life person that his personality might have – in some people’s minds – overshadowed his actual knowledge.
Highlighting how knowledgeable Talley was, Wallace said that with what seemed like a photographic memory, he could recount every fashion show he had ever seen, which is pretty awesome to think about. But he did. He was a historian, a writer, a people connector too,” Wallace said.
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