I read The Chiffon Trenches, but I didn’t need to- I had read Vogue religiously, and knew André’s by-line. I knew he was besties with Anna Wintour (reports say she was with him when he passed), knew too, that he had left Vogue- We knew some of the same artists- and all the ones I wished I could have met- but I realized as we conversed about his career, I didn’t need to meet them. André could describe folks- in detail- you knew them because he could write. He would explain what made Karl Lagerfeld tick- and why Miuccia Prada took over the family business and why Jean Paul Gautier favored topstitching while John Galliano knew what to do with fabric- Bill Blass, Whoopi Goldberg- you name him or her- and André either knew them or could tell you what made them tick. Of course, there were dilemmas and tiffs and arguments and scuffles. Of course, there were moments when feelings were hurt and old wounds tore open like a pocket on a cashmere coat- if you live a vibrant life of meaning, and if you have opinions, and you state them directly and with clarity- somebody will not like it from time to time. André took the risk.
I welcome you to watch our interview- which, truth be told, I had so much to discuss with him- after reading The Chiffon Trenches and ALT, and reading about his roots, which I understood- the marvel of this tall young man growing up in the south in the country, discerning, well mannered and gay- that I was overwhelmed by him… by the lists of people, places and designs-the columns, the essays, the quotes, that I was, for the first time, too in awe to get to the point, but I persisted. I wanted to understand the world through André’s lens- and he was happy to walk us through it. I don’t think it’s fair to be reductive about André- and like all the great thinkers and writers- he heard the distant chimes without living in the belltower. Beauty roiled through André’s world- it wasn’t doled out in portions- beauty was a force. It didn’t have a color or a vibe or a specific button or hem- André just knew it when he saw it.
André Leon Talley was an arbiter of good taste, a dramatist with a flair for storytelling and the saga behind a designer and his or her designs. He had an aching need to connect his Aunt Lavinia to Coco Chanel- because he could not shake the images of the chic, daring, turned-out African American women in his family- they spurred him to this world with their style and elegance. He became a professor of French! He married his southern upbringing in church and school to his longing for foreign places where he would be appreciated. His friends were often in the same boat he was in- writers including the glorious Julia Reed who had one Manolo in the bayous of Mississippi and the other on the tarmac at JFK. North Carolina was the garden from whence ALT came, but he would not return to it. He would visit, but it would not contain him. Nor would Manhattan, or Paris, or London or Milan- or Africa- or China or Russia- or anywhere on this beautiful planet- He moved through the world not to claim it, but so we might know it. And if you listened closely, and read his work, you know his highest dream for you, Vogue reader, involved pluck, enthusiasm and largesse. Good taste, it turns out, is really about generosity of spirit.