The elitist fashion industry chewed up André Leon Talley

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With the death of André Leon Talley, it is also the death of the illusory world of haute couture.

Only Anna Wintour remains, Talley’s greatest enemy. When she leaves, so does the demi-monde – and good riddance.

As Tom Ford told the Financial Times in 2016: “Fashion is evil”. Ford was once a victim, but at least he made it out alive, now working on his own terms.

Legendary stylist Isabella Blow, designers Alexander McQueen, L’Wren Scott and Kate Spade were not so lucky. All died by suicide, Blow and McQueen particularly brutalized by the industry.

When I learned last night that Talley had died, aged 73, my first thought was that his exile from fashion must have contributed. Regardless of his medical complications, he also died of a broken heart. Fashion was everything to Talley. He thought fashion was safe to love. Fashion, he thought, would never leave him.

How wrong he was. “There were some very cruel and racist times in my life in the fashion world,” Talley told The New York Times in 2018. “Incidents where people were hurtful, mean-spirited, and terrifying.”

Andre Leon Talley
By 2018, Talley was struggling financially, facing eviction, and didn’t have many friends to turn to.
Getty Images for SCAD

Yet Talley could play that game too, buying that ugly business of beautiful people, reveling in his own role as caretaker. He was the outsider who became an insider, as much a creation as anyone else in this field: speaking with an indeterminate accent, issuing dictates and orders with the authority of a four-star general, doing dropping names and basking in a state of unsustainable hedonism.

At one point along the way, Talley couldn’t find the line between camp and rawness.

Take this story from Tim Gunn, who once found Talley in a green room, “a translucent barber’s bib [spread] above André and he is lying down, his arms along his body. We feed him grapes and cheese cubes one by one, like a bird in a nest.

To quote a maxim that Gunn helped popularize: Someday you’re in. . .

Still, it was heartening to read Talley’s dispatches in exile, who was no longer in favor of Anna Wintour, cast out, he said, for being “too old, too overweight, too uncool”. .

Andre Leon Talley and Anna Wintour
Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley had a strange friendship – some have even called it one of the greatest enemy relationships.
WireImage

In 2018, he was living alone in White Plains, broke and facing eviction, abandoned by almost all of his fanciful friends, shocked at how reptilian and transactional this world was.

But Talley, whether he knew it or not, was also mourning something that no longer existed, a realm long democratized by technology, fast fashion, reality TV shows and TikTok influencers.

Talley’s latest outrage was learning a few years ago that he had been fired as Vogue’s official Met Gala red carpet interviewer, replaced by a YouTube star in his 20s.

That’s who has the motto: Not Vogue, not Wintour, but any kid with a ring-light and a following.

“Fashion doesn’t take care of its people,” Talley said in 2018. He hoped to avoid the fate of former YSL muse Loulou de la Falaise, who died broke and abandoned by the industry.

“I’m very scared of that,” he said.

He was right. Fashion has lost a true original, and for better or worse, we will never see its like again.

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