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Fashion icon Andre Leon Talley dies at 73

"No one was more soulful and grander than you were … The world will be less joyful now," designer Diane von Furstenberg wrote in a tribute.
/ Source: TODAY

Fashion icon André Leon Talley died Monday in New York at the age of 73.

Talley was the only Black man to serve as creative director at Vogue and authored several books, including a 2020 memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches.”

"It is with great sadness we announce the passing of André Leon Talley on January 18, 2022 in New York," Talley's official Instagram account shared early Wednesday morning. Calling the late icon "larger-than-life," the post also noted Talley's affinity for "nurturing and celebrating young designers."

Raised by his maternal grandmother in the Jim Crowe South, Talley first rose to prominence in New York City in the 1970s before he went to Paris, where he worked for Women’s Wear Daily.

He then worked at Vogue, first as a fashion news director in the early to mid-1980s and then as creative director until 1995. He briefly left but eventually returned in 1998 as the editor-at-large until his departure in 2013.

Talley also served as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model” from March 2010 to December 2011. Additionally, he was the subject of the 2017 documentary film, The Gospel According to André.

“I don’t live for fashion; I live for beauty and style,” he said in the opening scene. “Fashion is fleeting, style remains.”

Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour was also featured in the film, where she celebrated Talley for his talents.

“No one really needs another handbag or another sweater or another coat. It has to be emotional,” Wintour said. “André could always make the reader feel that dream and feel that emotion.”

“To be totally candid, my fashion history’s not so great and his was impeccable,” she said. “So I think I learned a lot from him.”

Andre Leon Talley looks thoughtful in a reddish orange caftan of sorts with short white and gray hair
Andre Leon Talley at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 18, 2017, in New York City. Taylor Hill / Getty Images

Variety on Tuesday credited Talley as being a major force behind increased diversity on runways and as an advocate for LGBTQ+ voices — though he didn't explicitly define his sexuality, calling himself "fluid."

In 2020, Talley released “The Chiffon Trenches," which was billed as a tell-all memoir about his time at Vogue and detailed his complicated relationship with Wintour. In an interview with TODAY’s Al Roker at the time, he explained that his fashion story was one of survival.

“I think it’s important that every man of color who has been born in this country who is a descendant of enslaved people of African descent tells a story because every day is a struggle for a Black man, no matter what station in life you’ve achieved,” he said at the time.

“I could’ve been George Floyd. I could’ve been Ahmed Arbury. Really nothing has changed. So my story is a story of how to survive all odds, no matter what the odds are.”

In the book, Talley also got candid about his time at the iconic fashion magazine.

“I never thought of myself as a Black man sitting at Vogue creating this historical moment. I thought of myself as an individual with talent and a person who had knowledge about fashion and style,” he wrote.

Talley focused much of his life on his career and the prestige it brought him. In a 2018 profile for the New York Times, after he had departed Vogue and had bounced around several jobs, he explained that dedication to his work had left him alone.

“Diane von Furstenberg said, ‘He was afraid to fall in love,’ and I guess I was. I guess I was afraid, and I guess I was repressed," he told the newspaper. "I grew up in a very strict household. But being in this world, moving around with all these incredible people … it was enough for me to have the friendship of Karl (Lagerfeld) or the friendship of Yves Saint Laurent or the friendship of Azzedine Alaïa.”

At the time he spoke to NYT, Alaïa and Saint Laurent had already passed on. Lagerfeld died in 2019.

“I live alone. I’ll die alone, I climbed up alone, and I’ll go down alone,” Talley told the New York Times in 2018. “I wake up and think about it almost every day. But I don’t do online dating or stuff like that.”

After news of Talley's death began to circulate on Tuesday night, von Furstenberg penned a tribute to him on Instagram, writing that she had "loved and laughed" with him for 45 years.

"No one saw the world in a more elegant and glamorous way than you did … no one was more soulful and grander than you were," she wrote. "The world will be less joyful now."

Vogue and Wintour did not immediately respond to TODAY’s request for comment.

In a prescient passage in his book about his mother’s 2015 death, Talley wrote that he was unafraid of the end of life because of his faith.

“I do not fear death, as it was always present in my Baptist upbringing: Prepare yourself for death. We all have to die one day.”