My colleague from London sent me a Facebook message a few days ago, telling me that former Vogue Creative Director Andre Leon Talley was on BBC Hardtalk. He wrote, “He literally shouts the entire 30 minutes. The Host is like, ‘Shouldn’t you have done more to help black people earlier in your career?’ and sparks fly!” Check out the interview below:
As per the name of the show, the interviewer asks Mr. Talley hard questions like, “In the late 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s the fashion business was a business that found it very difficult to accept black people in senior positions. You had all these great friends, but were you not aware that there was a systematic discrimination problem?” and “If you were aware of that, why didn’t you speak out about it?” and “Did you not have to suffer humiliation to keep your position at Vogue?”
While Andre’s defensive responses are a bit off-putting (and your comments about the video were pretty scathing), what the interviewer and many of us in this generation fail to realize is that Andre was in a unique position in a unique time. His ability to simply survive at his perch was a defiant symbol of activism in itself. (Also, the interviewer should direct those same questions at the woman in charge, Anna Wintour. Andre was an employee, he can’t hire or fire. The boss on the other hand…)
Could he have pushed harder? Perhaps. And we really don’t know what he did or did not do behind the scenes. It’s a very sensitive situation as the ‘only one’ in such a precarious position, and I have seen from personal experience, how quickly one is cast out for bringing others in (this is real and has happened to me. You can be punished for helping other people of color get in to elitist spaces).
In that spirit, here are 5 reasons Mr. Andre Leon Talley should be celebrated and not denigrated:
- He attained a high position in a racist industry at a very racist time—and survived and thrived for over 20 years.
We are still talking about racial injustices NOW, after we’ve had a Black President and we’ve seen so many examples of Black Excellence, from Oprah to Diddy and beyond. Imagine what Andre was dealing with. It certainly could not have been easy for him, as a black, gay, extremely tall man to exist in all white spaces where racism ran rampant. Him simply being in the room and maintaining was an act of strength in itself.
2. He survived the Chiffon Trenches with zero scandals or major missteps.
In these days when light is revealing darkness, we haven’t heard of Andre involved in any drug or sex scandals. Absolutely nothing untoward. Could he have been nicer? Perhaps! But he generally kept his head down and did the work. He brought pride and poise to his position, and still exists as an example, at the very least, of a brilliant, honorable man.
3. Not everyone is born a leader.
It seems that Andre got involved in fashion…simply for the love of fashion. Not to be a political leader or a change maker. If he wanted a leadership role, he could have started his own magazine or created his own podcast ages ago. Going gung-ho and building new institutions takes a certain personality type, and Andre is not that guy. Some of us, even some of you reading, just want to go to work and collect a paycheck. We shouldn’t judge Andre for wanting to do the same.
4. He did help some designers and people of color make their way into Vogue.
We might have liked to have seen MORE, but we can’t say Andre Leon Talley did not consistently sing the praises of designers like Rachel Roy and Laquan Smith, or show love to Janelle Monae, Diddy, and Rihanna. Also, according to his interview, he was a catalyst to putting Jennifer Hudson and former First Lady Michelle Obama on the cover of the fashion bible. Lastly, as he mentioned in his book The Chiffon Trenches, his fashion editorials were frequently cut from the magazine, until he simply stopped trying. As we saw in the September issue, Anna’s slashing skills are savage (We all remember the tug of war she frequently had with Grace Coddington over her editorials). Who knows, perhaps Andre suggested, and Anna simply said no. We will never know.
5. Andre paved the way for every single Black Person in the Fashion Industry.
Love him or loathe him, Andre set the foundation for black people in fashion. Because he occupied that space, for so long, as an honorable, elegant, editor, he should celebrated. Because he dealt with unknown trauma, both external and internal, he should be protected. Lesser men might have resorted to substances or even suicide, but Andre stayed strong, and NOW is using his platform to make a change. Better late than never. And the entire notion of being Black in Fashion would not exist without Mr. Talley.
We salute you.
The world is hard enough on black men. Let’s take our figurative knee off their necks and show a bit of grace and forgiveness. Let’s respect our elders and uplift their contributions. He paved the way for each of us today.
Love & Light,