For many, André Leon Talley was not simply a force, he was a fashion powerhouse. For others, he was a champion of inclusion who broke several glass ceilings, and challenged the fashion industry to operate from a place of “unconditional love,” which he said he learned as a young child from his grandmother. Yes, Talley—a veteran fashion journalist, a Paris correspondent, and the first Black editor at Vogue—proved himself to be a “possibility model” for so many individuals who feel invisible and unheard in the media.
When I was growing up in a very strict religious household feeling as if I had a dark cloud over my head, seeing Talley on shows such as America’s Next Top Model and on the red carpet of E! was like seeing a light, which I was so desperate to find at the time. Talley reminded me that I had the right not only to want opulence, but to demand honor and respect, something that very few Black, queer and trans people grow up feeling they deserve.
But it’s more than that. Watching Talley from afar and thinking of him as I reflect on my own journey in the media, I have often felt as if I could hear him telling me to “keep my head up” on days when I felt as if I was being told to stay in my lane. He made me feel as if I belonged there. He accomplished so much during his time on Earth (I mean, he was a mentor to Naomi Campbell), and he was a role model for so many other Black queer people who often felt misunderstood and unloved.
Talley was not just mighty, and there was so much more to him than fashion. I would be discrediting him if the only thing that I highlighted was the ways that he shook an industry built on oppression and white supremacy. Even though fashion bullies used to call him “Queen Kong”—a derogatory term for those who are Black, queer and large—Talley reminded us that it’s not what anyone in this life calls you, but what you answer to.
Talley managed to sharpen his ability to make the world not only hear him, but see him. This is something that many Black, fat, queer people struggle with. Talley showed many how to navigate spaces, industries, and a world that was never built for them.
While his eyes were always “starved for beauty,” he cultivated a world where fat, Black, queer people like me could feel not only beautiful, but important. Navigating a world in what he described as his “armor,” Talley is and will always be of the moment.
While his eyes were always “starved for beauty,” he cultivated a world where fat, Black, queer people like me could feel not only beautiful, but important.
Writing about him is making me feel emotional all over again, not just because I never got a chance to meet him, but because of what he was able to do for me and people who look, live, and dream like me. I think about the ways that Talley spoke with intention and he moved so fiercely, almost as if he knew the world was waiting for his demise.
There are many people sharing kind words about him now that he is no longer with us, some of whom mistreated him during his final years, but Talley would say with his Southern candor that “in time, they will in fact get theirs.” He would probably suggest that we forgive them because we are not who people say we are, but who we want to be. He may even suggest that there are far more important things to worry about and thinking about our enemies won’t change anything.
I will always remember Talley as the person who reminded me that it was okay for me to just be. I will always be thankful that I got a chance to experience his greatness in this lifetime, even if it was in a caftan from Torrid.