Andre Leon Talley has an enviable skill on top of his many talents – the ability to not only entertain and delight individuals from across all walks of life, but also to make those individuals feel as though they’re besties with the editor and impressive personality.
As part of the 92Y’s Fashion Icons series, Fern Mallis sat down with the iconic editor to discuss his childhood, his devoted friendship with Diana Vreeland, and the intimate relationship he’s cultivated with Karl Lagerfeld. Over the course of an hour and a half, Talley had the audience, which included fashion and entertainment luminaries like Michael Kors, Carolina Herrera, Bethann Hardison, and Bette Midler, rolling in laughter.
Growing up, Talley lived with his grandmother and great-grandmother as his parents were struggling in their careers. His love for fashion started a young age when his grandmother bought him a set of yellow paisley Christian Dior PJs. “They were the first luxurious thing I had,” he said. “I wore them for years.” From there his addiction grew, and Talley would walk to the Duke campus after church every other Sunday to buy the newest edition of Vogue. “Little did I know you could subscribe to it.”
After high school graduation, Talley graduated from North Carolina Central University, then went on to complete his masters program at Brown, while befriending students at Rhode Island School of Design. Though he did not know it at the time, Talley’s “Life with Andre” column officially began in his youth as he would cover social events including his friend’s Saturday night parties, to which they wore bed clothes. (Speaking of those, Talley found his love for capes at a young age, sourcing vintage stores in college!)
With high school, college, and a masters degree behind him, Talley began to volunteer at the Met, which is where he met the formidable Vreeland. She made the quick (and very intelligent) that he would remain by her side for the remainder of the exhibit they were working on, beginning a lifelong bond between the two.
During the holiday season between 1974 and 1975, Vreeland encouraged him to stay in New York,to which is grandmother was non too pleased. It all worked out in the end; the editor came through, linking Talley to Andy Warhol, helping him to officially begin his career in the fashion industry. He transitioned from receptionist to fashion editor in one month, landing his first interview with Carolina Herrera and spending evenings attending movie premieres and dinner with Warhol. His friendship with the artist provided the connection for another long standing relationship in his life – with Lagerfeld. He met the designer at the Plaza Hotel one afternoon due to an assignment to interview him while Antonio Lopez sketched which lead to Lagerfeld sharing bespoke clothes he had created for himself.
From there, Talley went on to provide his influence at WWD as the Paris editor, before learning he was joining Vogue through a handwritten letter at his home at 1 Astor Place from Anna Wintour when Grace Mirabella was still the editor. With such a strong sentiment to begin their professional career together, it’s not surprising that Wintour and Talley are such close confidents. He was one of two Vogue staffers invited to her wedding, which took place in the afternoon on a work day, and was even her chosen recipient of her bouquet, much to his chagrin. Of his time with Wintour, he says the most important lessons have been: “To be quick, make a decision and don’t change it.”
In the late years of Vreeland’s life, Talley would read to her every weekend and every Christmas eve, then hop on a plane Christmas morning to make it home in time for breakfast with his grandmother. When both Vreeland and his grandmother died in the same year, Lagerfeld sent him and a ticket on New Years Eve on the Concord to land in time to make it to Paris before the new year. “It’s fabulous to have friends like Karl. And I never slept with him!”
Now, Talley lives in White Planes in a house with three extra bedrooms, all of which are closets. He takes car service to and from the city and “gardens through direction and pointing.” Beware of your manners if you ever have the chance to visit him at home; “There are some people that sit on the floor because they fall on my couch the wrong way,” he deadpanned.
Though Talley won’t have a cake in celebration of his 65th birthday, he will have something better. Oprah’s set to come to his home to film with him, meaning ALT’s coming to your TV screen soon!