Pioneering fashion journalist and longtime creative director and editor-at-large for Vogue André Leon Talley passed away yesterday at the age of 73. A force of nature in a notoriously white and elitist industry, he is celebrated for championing Black designers and advocating for more diversity in the field.
At 6 feet 6 inches tall, Talley’s flamboyant presence and dramatic personal style cut a larger-than-life figure that redefined American couture over a storied, six-decade career. From growing up in the Jim Crow South to commanding the runways of Paris, he chronicled the riveting arc of his life in two memoirs – 2013’s A.L.T. and 2020’s The Chiffon Trenches, the latter of which landed on The New York Times Best Seller list.
In a 2013 interview with Designers & Books, Talley spoke about his aversion to fashion books, and finding inspiration in fiction:
“I don’t recommend fashion books to anyone. Each individual must find his own way. There’s only one great fashion memoir: DV by Diana Vreeland. That is one book I would recommend. Also, Vreeland’s great book edited by Jackie Onassis, Allure. You can learn about fashion through history, and narrative in novels. Anna Karenina is a great source of high fashion for me. So is Marlene Dietrich, a biography written by her daughter, Anna Riva.”
A firm believer in the power of books to educate and enlighten, he was an advocate for browsing and reading broadly:
“I don’t have any critera for selecting reading matter. I learned early that to read is to be illuminated. To read is to be empowered. Knowledge is power. Therefore I will choose any book on any subject (except perhaps natural sciences, chemistry, or psychology) – history, biographies, novels, great authors – it does not matter.”
Asked to name his all-time favorite books, Talley included The Book of Psalms, a children’s story by Truman Capote, and the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Dive into his reading list below, and complement with the 13 books that inspired Alexander McQueen.
André Leon Talley’s Reading List
The Book of Psalms translated by Robert Alter
“This is the best motivational reading to me. I grew up on the Bible in Sunday School. When I feel vulnerable I turn to the Bible and can find words of healing, and inspiration, especially in any of the Psalms.” -ALT
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
“This is one of my favorite books, I always read it as a young boy at Christmas and loved the simple narrative of Aunt Sook. It so reminded me of my home, and my life with my grandmother: the prepping of fruit cake for the holidays, the intimate bonding of a young child to an older adult – friends between the generational divide. It’s a great, great masterpiece.” -ALT
The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust
“This is my favorite Proust volume. I can’t say that all of A La Recherche du temps perdu speaks to me, but The Guermantes Way does. I am not going to be pretentious and tell you I read Proust in French. I try, but I always have an English translation at the ready.” -ALT
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass (also rec’d by RATM)
“I travel with this book to remind me of the history of my race, and the struggle of the African-American journey, and how one can overcome adversity and evolve into greatness.” -ALT
The Sun King by Nancy Mitford
“I learned everything about the history, style, and magnificence of the French court from this incredible book. It might seem like a superficial choice but the research is strong, rich, and powerful. It is one of my favorite books.” -ALT
“I can’t say anything more than that it doesn’t get better than this. Here is an author who creates characters with every human quality one might encounter. This vast and sweeping saga is thrilling and Tolstoy’s sense of visual extravagance is without parallel.” -ALT
(via Designers & Books)