Andre Leon Talley talks being Black at Vogue, racism and surviving child abuse

The fashion veteran thinks we're witnessing an awakening by people who want to see change.
/ Source: TODAY

André Leon Talley, a fashion industry pioneer and the only Black man to serve as creative director at Vogue, is telling all in his new memoir, “The Chiffon Trenches,” including how he encountered racism in the business.

“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 told Al Roker on the 3rd hour of TODAY Friday.

“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.”

Talley, 71, rose to prominence in New York City in the 1970s before he went to Paris, where racism especially reared its head.

“A jealous person gave me the nickname Queen Kong,” he said.

Talley believes a change is coming, especially in the wake of the protests that followed Floyd’s death.

“Without a doubt, there’s going to be accountability. The young people out there walking, marching. They’re marching still to this day. There are white people, there are Black people, there are Asian people, there are brown people. Young people aren’t going to stand for it anymore. They are tired of this.”

In his book, Talley also gets candid about his time at Vogue.

“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 also pulled no punches when addressing his complicated relationship with Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, who reportedly wrote in a staff memo that it can’t be easy to be a Black person at the magazine.

“She said it, but she didn’t live it. I lived it,” Talley said.

Talley claims he was "very hurt" because Wintour never contacted him to tell him he would no longer be covering the Met Gala — especially after attending her family events, including weddings and funerals.

“As we grew older and evolved more into her power structure, she seems to have forgotten and some days she would treat me like a family member and another day I’d be the black sheep, virtually out in the pasture,” he said.

Talley also opened up about sexual abuse he endured as a child at the hands of men in his neighborhood he knew.

“I say I feel like my DNA is scrambled. I don’t understand intimacy. I don’t like to be touched because of the serial sexual abuse, but I simply regret that I did not have the skills to become intimate with anyone,” he said. “It’s just a very tragic, sad part of my life.”

CORRECTION (June 27, 10:35 ET): A previous version of this story incorrectly stated George Floyd was the author of “The Chiffon Trenches.” André Leon Talley is the author of the memoir.