I do not post about “celebrity” deaths often because I try not to create relationship where there was only fascination. But, I have some thoughts I want to share about Andre Leon Talley.
I never met Mr. Talley, but I did see him once in person. Oh how I wish I would’ve spoken to him. I should’ve sat at that BLVD Bistro table, ordered another plate of chicken and waffles and asked him the things that his white women editors couldn’t know to ask because they were white women. The things that sons ask fathers and uncles and grandfathers. There has always been a chasm between “Black manhood” and “Black gay manhood” that no amount of love and allyship can bridge. The Black gay men who have walked before me have always been important to me — whether I’ve known them intimately or only known their work. So, as a Black gay boy obsessed with fashion and cultivating tremendous personal style, ALT always loomed large. I watched the many interviews and most recently read “The Chiffon Trenches” and yet I still feel like there is so much I don’t know. More than the glitzy fashion shows, more than the name dropping, I wanted to know about the tall Black man from North CarolinaThe memoir touched on the complexities of being Black in white spaces, but what about being gay in Black ones? To be a sissy in the sixties in North Carolina? What a journey it must’ve been. He breathed rare air with Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent - how rich! But also with Patrick Kelly and Willi Smith and many other Black creatives whose names we might not ever know. Oh the conversations they had — about bias cut gowns, but also identity? Authenticity? Exceptionalism? Loneliness? About the personal tolls of being a “trailblazer”, the unexpected costs of being “the first”? I wonder.
The quote above is the final passage from his last memoir, published in 2020. I was struck by it when I first read it, and still now. Maybe especially now? “I always wanted love.” I can’t help but wonder, was he ever able to look past the Blahnik heels on the feet of the white women at which he sat and see that we loved him along, not in spite of who he was but for it?