2nd December 2012

Avant-Garde Style Profile: André Leon Talley

Chloe Letcher on one of the most famous advocates for larger-than-life fashion

The term ‘Avant-garde’ typically refers to works of art that are innovative, experimental and willing to push the boundaries. But in a society like ours, where fashion plays a prominent role in our daily lives, the term is embodied fully in the style choices of iconic figures who are willing to challenge the status quo of what is deemed ‘acceptable’.  No one is a more appropriate example of this than André Leon Talley. People may be familiar with Talley because of his 2008 cameo role in the Sex and the City movie, or because of his judging role on America’s Next Top Model. What many are unaware of is that, before Talley became a household name, he had been a distinguished figure in fashion, and a front-row regular at shows, for longer than most of us have been alive.

Born in North Carolina, and raised by his grandmother Bennie Frances Davis, Talley was taught to take pride in his appearance from a young age. He began his fashion career working as an assistant for  Andy Warhol, earning a menial $50 a week. It was shortly after this that he met Diana Vreeland, whose sense of grandeur he immediately connected with, and by the time he got his first job with Vogue in 1983, Talley was already well celebrated for his excessive style. Here are a few examples of why…

Talley is most recognised in fashion circles for his consistent cape wearing. Not satisfied with a simple tuxedo, this blue haute couture gown reflects the grandeur and flamboyance that is representative of his style as a whole.

How often is it that we see such a statuesque man (or any for that matter) photographed wearing jewels? Talley hugely pushes the boundaries, attending the red carpet in a Roger Vivier necklace and pair of shoes.


In a day and age where man-bag culprits like Christian Ronaldo come under attack for being “effeminate” or “metrosexual”, this picture sums up how Talley is able to shrug off such criticism by looking effortlessly suave and classy with a Louis Vuitton clutch.

These shots may offer examples of why the shoe legend Manolo Blahnik comments that “André doesn’t have fashion. André himself is fashion”. Talley is a larger-than-life fashion icon (literally-he’s almost 7 foot tall). Talley’s style, in particular his capes, remind me of Alexander von Wagner’s painting The Chariot Race, which is loved by Vivienne Westwood for its depiction of classical styles and Roman drapery. His fashion sense is old-worldly, theatrical and regal. He completely undermines the understated rule that “less is more”. For André Leon Talley, more is fabulous.


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