Thank You, André Leon Talley
André Leon Talley. Change agent. Inspiration. The quick, witty rule breaker who showed us to show up unapologetically as our most fabulous selves.
I needed a pause after his passing, as it was extremely triggering for me. Because to exist in white spaces as the only black person is a painful experience sometimes. Because when you dare to exist in those spaces, you make an agreement with yourself to endure the pain of constant microagressions, and it’s enough to break your heart and spirit over and over again. You can’t ever just be good. You have to be better. And there are always people waiting in the wings to take credit for your ideas, or at the very least remind you of your lack of gratitude, lest you forget that you owe them for your place in their world.
In André’s world, at times they couldn’t fathom he achieved it on his own accord. The tears he cried as he recollected these memories in his documentary makes me think it ate him alive. His most famed colleague at that most famous ‘zine even stated in her own words that she knew little about fashion history and that she learned from him and needed him. He had the training and the education and yet, she had the financial security that he never attained.
I revered ALT. But I also saw him as a cautionary tale- one that became more glaring after that cutting & exposing piece written about him last year in the NYT. Reading it was mortifying, as I’ve always believed that for me to be a working colorist in the beauty industry, it was most important to be paid equitably and fairly and to have the compensation match the skills that I worked hard to cultivate.
Representation matters. Real friendships matter. Who is there in the end matters. Remembering from whence you came and telling the people who elevated you, “thank you, you helped change the trajectory of my life, I am me, because of you”- that matters. Accolades and adoration are great, but they are fleeting. What remains? WHO remains?
With his passing, I hope we find the courage to both ask and answer these questions. I wish he could have seen all the lovely tributes while he was still in the physical plane. I’ll certainly wear many a caftan in his honor.
All photos by Vogue