Dec 6, 2005
Two Sides of Vogue
There are two sides to the Vogue editor and New York icon André Leon Talley (far right).
When Naomi Campbell, Donald Trump and Vera Wang joined him at the New York Historical Society benefit on Monday night, I expected a breathtaking presence to stand before us. Often caught on camera in flamboyant fashions, Talley delivered a surprisingly subtle look, with black on black simplicity. The only hint of color peeked from his pocket in the form of a cranberry silk handkerchief.
Co-chairing the event were Pat Aschul and the pregnant Melania Trump, in a cleavage-bearing, gorgeous black gown, who stopped by with her husband en route to the premiere of King Kong. Unlike Melania, Talley looked like he wanted to blend in—but his height didn’t let him. Talley is too tall for anonymity, and too graceful to slouch.
Who is this New York icon? He studied French at Brown University, but found himself eyeing the art students at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was inspired by beauty since childhood, when he’d watch his grandmother get ready for church with her navy stilettos and matching purse.
Talley is the author of A.L.T. 365+, a book that is itself a testament of style. He scrawled his signature on the large, glossy pages that highlight his life from 2003 to 2004. Next to each photograph is a description of an A-list person he encountered, beginning with Anna Wintour. He admits he was afraid of her at first, as are most people, but their friendship solidified on her wedding day, when she stuffed her bridal bouquet into his arms.
Talley tells this tale of Diana Ross in Paris: Though she went shopping without money or credit cards, the owner of an estate jewelry store let her leave with diamonds. A.L.T. 365+ also pays homage to another star, Oscar de la Renta, featuring photographs of the manicured grounds of the designer’s Connecticut estate and showing off the private waterfall on his farm in Santo Domingo.
Talley dedicates the book to his father, who gave him his first camera at age ten. A dignified guest of honor, he showed an affinity for children as he urged the audience to stay seated and watch the kids on stage. Before Talley spoke or signed books, he arranged for the spotlight to showcase the liturgical dancers from his church in Harlem, the Abyssinian Baptist Church. During the show, Talley stood alone in a dark corner with an expression of almost paternal pride.
Step dancers from Riverside Church performed inspirational numbers, followed by Joan Faye Donovan, who delivered a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night.” The music of singer Aaron Conley and the Harlem Festival Orchestra sealed the holiday spirit. Talley compared the evening’s music to a performance he heard in St. Petersburg on a recent trip to Russia with Marc Jacobs.
Talley acted humble and selfless throughout the night, a vessel of charity. He was only comfortable reversing roles after the event, when a circle formed around him. A friend handed him an open gossip magazine. “Here you are in Brazil.”
“Look at me!” Talley laughed, thrusting the photo spread into the air. “Look at me!” He broke the quiet, dignified aura, as animated as a child at play. His eyes widened while he waved the pages in front of his friends, who leaned in to see him in a floor-length animal print coat. He’d spent the entire evening directing attention elsewhere — to the young dancers, the singers and the orchestra — making sure the night was about everyone else, not him. But now the crowd had cleared and, for the first time that evening, he let us look directly at him, albeit through the medium of a magazine. Beyond his generosity, beyond the hard work of the self-made man, the energy in his voice gave a glimpse of a youthful spirit.