Throughout fashion month, fashion journalists and designers paid homage to the late creative director and editor André Leon Talley via heartfelt runway moments and articles. However, as writer and media executive Geneva S. Thomas reflects, the industry can never repay him for all that he contributed.
While the tributes rushed in like waves galloping to shore, the truth is strapped somewhere by debris on the oceanic floor.
The truth is: the fashion industry treated André Leon Talley terribly.
He laid the truth bare in his latest memoir the Chiffon Trenches but it was cheapened by gossip media with headlines made for TV dinners. His torment reduced to trivial resentment and his childhood sexual trauma callously obscured.
The cause of André Leon Talley's death was reportedly informed by chronic illnesses and potentially COVID-19 but surely it must also be the haunting of habitual industry betrayal, isolation from insiders compounded by the age of Covid. And disappointment, utter disappointment.
The truth is: André Leon Talley was too good for the global fashion industry. He raised fashion commentary to the levels of Toni Morrison with complicated, lyrical prose that only a mind that stretched like his could conjure.
He juxtaposed his elite education in French Literature with the dignified, majestic tradition of the Black American Church. He exalted the enchanting millinery of a church hat just as he celebrated the early collections of John Galliano. He didn’t merely fixate on fashion, he mastered the culture of style and socio-historical context. He could casually opine the everyday utility of a garment and engage in red carpet dialectics with the best of them. André Leon Talley was the best among them.
He never got over the loss of his grandmother Binnie Francis Davis, the woman who accepted his early Black queerness. But he went searching for that kind of acceptance in the fashion world and managed to become its most distinguished nobleman and tireless, indentured servant.
The truth is: André Leon Talley’s ancestral gift of taste elevated the laundry list of fashion giants whose association he wore like brands burned into his skin. He was their consigliere and their creative director on demand. Where were they when his name was scandalized by recent reports of eviction?
Unlike the pedigreed scions who crowd the halls of institutional, fashion elite, he was the most honest American royal: an earned and studied striver born in the Jim Crow south who as the Black church folk say: made a way out of no way.
André Leon Talley was fashion’s greatest waymaker, whether we want to give him credit for nurturing Black talent or not—the evidence of his existence was all we needed. We now know the price he paid simply to exist.
The truth is, my peers and I came into this industry as aspirants of his chiffon. As we inch closer to the age of 40, we now know the chiffon is never enough.
We should celebrate the riches of André Leon Talley’s immortal, towering life and work but it behooves us to consider the lessons.
Geneva S. Thomas is a writer and media executive based in New York City and Los Angeles. Follow her everywhere @genevasthomas.