You may know the story of Anna Wintour, the daughter of a respected British publisher who came over from the UK to helm American Vogue after she helmed British Vogue in the 1980s. (By the way, I was as addicted to the British magazines: Red, Heat, etc. as I was to American magazines- if it was in English, I would read it- and if it was in a foreign language, I bought them for the pictures.
Vogue introduced me to André Leon Talley. I had no idea what he looked like- but I loved his name and I loved how he wrote. I would’ve liked to have known him then- because it turns out he was from North Carolina and I grew up not far from him in southwest Virginia. His essays were hip- his byline chic- and he could write about anything- a hemline, a fabric, a starlet in marabou and leather- you name it- he would place fashion in a historical context and explain how the fashion world worked without making me feel it’s creations were out of reach. He did not have a common touch- his goal was not to make the reader feel included, but elevated. André was aspirational before people used that word outside of church. André was there to show the beauty- he decided, as he gleaned the collections in Paris and Milan, you the reader did not. You the Vogue reader trusted the experts. It was a masthead loaded with experts. And every single one of them could write. And no one, not anyone else that I can remember had the gift of André. He used words like emboldened, swath, hoopla and quiet. Quiet to describe a designer’s seam- you could hear the fabric float, barely a rustle. You were there in the workrooms where clothes were made, in the atelier where they were designed, and you went out on the town to places like Regine’s, where you would see stars. Bianca Jagger wore wide-legged pants, a satin halter top and a white mink coat. That was the scene- that was the world when André was young, and he was up in it, soaking up every detail.
By 1988, I was hired to write television. (That’s another story, dear reader-) but that too was fate. I met Susan Fales-Hill, who along with Margie Peters and Thad Mumford, hired me to write on the Cosby spin-off A Different World. Susan was (and is) the Harvard-educated writer, daughter of actress/singer/chanteuse Josephine Premice and Timothy Fales, a sea captain, whose family was in the social register. (Forgive me- I don’t know exactly what that means- but it means you did not come over from Italy in 1913 in steerage.) Susan and I remain close friends- and it was she who said, You must have André Leon Talley on your FB Live Show.