DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – For nearly five decades, the tale from the runway to the mannequin to your closet has been influenced by Mr. Vogue, better known as Monsieur André Leon Talley.
CBS North Carolina’s Beairshelle Edmé sat down with him for a one-on-one at the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
His story isn’t first stitched in a fashion capital, but in Durham at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church.
“When we went to church on Sundays, my grandmother was turned out,” Talley exclaimed! “My grandmother had the best shoes she could afford, naturalizer shoes. She had the best hats, which she bought from Joe Bells downtown. She had the best gloves, the best handbags. She had very few things, but she saved her money and she would go buy the best things.”
Fashion quickly caught his eye, but the options for him to explore intricate embroidery and haute couture were limited in the segregated south.
“Black people did not, were not able to be exposed to fashion,” he explained. “Fashion was not really being made for black people.”
Limited access to various industries were a norm during this era.
When Edmé asked the fashion icon and author about his days growing up in Durham during Jim Crow, he vividly remembered those years.
“We lived on the west end by Beachwood Cemetery. I would cross the railroad tracks and go over to Duke East campus to a magazine store and buy with my weekly stipend money, Vogue,” he recalled. “It was a Sunday afternoon and they (white young men) were in a car and I was walking down the street by the East campus wall and they were throwing rocks at me, but I just kept walking with my head held high.”
The Hillside High School graduate kept that attitude and would go on to North Carolina Central University as a French major, later earning a full scholarship for his masters at Brown University.
Quickly his star rose.
“I wasn’t thinking I’m the first black man sitting here at Yves St. Laurent (show), but I knew there was something important because people told me who I worked for,” Talley said.
From the Andy Warhol factory, he moved on to Women’s Wear Daily, the New York Times and most noteably, Vogue, where he worked as editor-at-large for more than 15 years.
“Karl Lagerfeld, Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière, Marc Jacobs– any designer you name, Miuccia Prada, all designers have respect because they know when I open my mouth and I’m going to say something, there’s knowledge and knowledge is power,” he said.
The former America’s Next Top Model judge has had the front row seat to fashion’s evolution, but as he sat across from Edmé, the 69-year-old acknowledged there’s still a lot of work to be done, but he believes progress is here.
Asked what the industry is like now for men and women of color, he responded, “It’s a moment of opportunity-open the door. It’s a moment of go forward and leap, go forth. There are many opportunity.”
As for his own legacy, it’s still being written.
“I’ve been so blessed to know and work with the best,” he said. “It was just my life. But today, I think about it a lot and I do think that I have contributed a lot to the world of fashion.”
A documentary on Talley’s life, “The Gospel According to André,” will be released this April.