André Leon Talley: The Man, The Legend, The Icon!

~Shemeka Michelle

André Leon Talley is larger than life! Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall, his height is not the only reason he’s so admired. His presence is all-consuming because he is sure of himself, knows his worth and has a personality that commands attention! Some would think that Mr. Talley, with all of his accomplishments, would be arrogant, dismissive and rude. However, he is kind, nurturing and hilariously funny! After spending the weekend as his unofficial assistant, I feel inspired to take on the world!

 

THE MAN

André Leon Talley is an international fashion journalist & icon. He was born on October 16, 1949, raised with his grandmother in Durham, NC and graduated from the illustrious Hillside High School in 1966. After high school, he attended North Carolina Central University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French Literature in 1970. He was later granted a scholarship to Brown University, where he earned a Master of Arts degree in French Literature in 1972.

Although Mr. Talley is world renowned, he counted it not robbery to spend the weekend at his high school alma mater. Mr. Talley was brought in by Wendell Tabb, the director of theater to inspire students in the arts. He spent the weekend answering questions and giving great advice from his years in the fashion industry. He was also awarded the coveted Key to the City! Upon meeting, I quickly noticed his genuine spirit when it wasn’t enough that we knew who he was. He sincerely wanted to know the names of students and those around him, and actually remembered the names throughout the weekend. Mr. Talley casually shared stories of his upbringing, and his reaction to the thought of eating chitterlings (which he never did) will remain etched in my mind.

THE LEGEND

As a Hillside High School graduate myself, I am well aware of the great names that have come before me. As a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey, and an avid watcher of America’s Next Top Model, I was familiar with some of Mr. Talley’s accomplishments well before this weekend. I followed him on Twitter a couple of years ago, and even shouted him out as a fellow hornet. Both the follow and tweet went ignored LOL. Nevertheless, his body of work is amazing and worthy to be praised!

Some would note that he’s worked with the who’s who in the fashion industry. I would say, he IS the who’s who! I mean, how many people can say they’ve actually advised Michelle Obama, the former first lady of the United States? Also, his career at Vogue spanned from 1983 to 2013. I wouldn’t dare try to list all of his achievements in a blog. While many use the popular phrase “Google me” with a search returning zero results, this is definitely not the case with Mr. Talley. Google him!

THE ICON

If you haven’t seen The Gospel According to André, you are missing a treat. This is a must see documentary that was screened in September 2016 at the Toronto Film Festival and was released in the US on May 25, 2018. I watched it with tears in my eyes, amazed and truly inspired. Growing up during the Jim Crow era in the South, in the film, Mr. Talley discusses the moments of discrimination he faced. However, he did not allow that to deter him from following his dreams. In the film, he talks about the fact that though he faced discrimination, he never focused on it. He continued to push forward! Lately, I’ve been criticized for not being as vocal about my blackness as in times past or being a Black voice. Unknowingly, a statement Mr. Talley made in the film, was confirmation that despite criticism, I have to stay focused on where I’m going. In the film, Mr. Talley said, “You don’t have to scream I’m Black and I’m proud” just BE that!

Connecting with Mr. Talley this weekend was not only divine, I believe we were divinely connected. In my eyes, he’s an honorary Naked Girl as he truly embodies everything that we are. He lives life authentically and continues to evolve everyday; becoming a greater version of himself. From his distinct tone of voice, to his smile, and even his look of disapproval, the impact of his presence will be felt for years to come.