Fashion Oracle

andré leon talley – photo: colin douglas gray


Fashion Oracle

The presence of SCAD has long drawn iconic figures in the art world to the Hostess City, and we've been lucky enough to talk to a few, like chief priest of high style André Leon Talley.​ Featured in Faces of the South: The Trilogy Edition now on newsstands. Click here to order your copy of Faces today. 

Since the 1970s, André Leon Talley has been a force in the fashion and art world. Also a long-time attendee of the Savannah Film Festival, Talley curated his second installation for the Museum of Art at SCAD, Little Black Dress, in the gallery that bears his name. 

André Leon Talley is the chief priest of high style. Yes, there is his guru's fashion intuition – sought actively by his colleagues – but equally impressive is how presents himself to the world. Donning tunics, robes and capes over Charvet shirts and Ralph Lauren dinner suits, he doesn't get dressed – he gets draped. The elegant matador, the classic aristrocat, the caped crusader, the sartorial monk – whatever the look, he is always 6-foot-7, and he is always grand. Talley and Oscar de la Renta co-curated Joaquin Sorolla and the Glory of Spanish Dress for the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York. On one of the tours of the show, de la Renta stopped to admire Talley, clad elegantly in black: "Look at him … Balenciaga cape ready for the bullfight. There is a misconception about style and being skinny. He's not skinny, and he has more style than anyone I know."
Style, intuition and respect to boot, Talley has also won the laurels. A native of Durham, North Carolina, Talley has a degree in French from North Carolina Central University and a Master's degree in French from Brown University. He moved to New York and worked at Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, where he would answer the phone, "Bonjour!" He landed a job as Diana Vreeland's assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.
Vreeland, the editorial maven known for her exquisite eye and way with words, operated on instinct. She saw quality in Talley's taste level and work ethic. Upon becoming editor-in-chief of Vogue, she took Talley with her. Talley started working at Vogue in 1983 and served as editor-at-large.
"It is always a great day working with Anna Wintour," Talley says. "Vogue is the standard bearer, and we, the team at Vogue, strive to maintain the standard bearer."
His expertise has taken him through the office of WWD, Ebony, W magazine Paris and back to Vogue, where he is currently contributing editor. He also served on the judging panel e America's Next Top Model for cycles 14 through 17, advised the First Family on fashion, and is a Special Correspondent for Entertainment Tonight (ET) on the red carpet at the Golden Globes and Oscars.
For all of his cultural and professional endeavors, there are lessons learned from the South that never left Talley. "Articulation, articulation, articulation!" he insists, touting the importance of "being thoughtful and respectful. Speak when you have something to say." Growing up in the post-civil rights South, Talley navigated his youngeryears with savvy. He says, "I read. I read literature. I liked [chic socialite and novelist] Nancy Mitford, who said, 'Good clothing is a matter of good health!'"
As a teenager, he interpreted the quote with profound introspection. "I didn't have a lot, but I sought out the best, so whatever I had I kept them in good condition," he says.
His intimacy with the finer things is a result of the fortitude embodied by his grandmother. Bennie Frances Davis boiled her family's laundry, ironed their towels, bought Talley his first designed clothing at age 10 (pajamas by Christian Dior Paris from downtown Durham) and introduced him to Saks Fifth Avenue.
"Everything was simple and clean," he remembers. "And my grandmother had beautiful white sheets that she would iron." There was will in that iron. Bennie Frances Davis planeted the idea of luxury. What's past, as they say, is prologue.
Talley's work with SCAD not only keeps him connected with the going-on of the South but also provides him a relationship with the Hostess City. "I love the hospitality and the warmth of the people of Savannah," he says. "It's a refreshing pause from that which is hectic – a bit of a throwback to the old school. Savannah is an extraordinary city of great elegance and culture."

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