If you’re out there for a measurement 13 pair of Manolo Blahnik snakeskin night slippers edged with crimson satin ribbon, then 15 February may very well be your fortunate day. At an public sale at Christie’s in New York of the non-public property of André Leon Talley, the previous American Vogue inventive director who died final yr, they could be yours for a information value of £400. A Chanel navy silk faille opera coat may very well be snapped up for about £3,000 (scattered “solar injury” is famous), whereas two extra-large Birkin baggage look a steal at £4,000. There aren’t any fewer than 29 Louis Vuitton trunks up for grabs (together with one which made a cameo look in 2008’s Intercourse and the Metropolis movie), together with a Prada coat in white crocodile and an orange liveried Hermès bike that Talley by no means rode however saved in storage on the Ritz in Paris.
When Talley died, the gaudy stock of his possessions and tales of unpaid hire and a painful exile on the hand of Anna Wintour appeared to color an operatic, bittersweet portrait of an overdressed and overwrought determine. However Talley was a extra inventive, extra attention-grabbing, smarter and kinder particular person than any of that. Having grown up poor and black within the still-segregated US south, he gained a full school scholarship and graduated with a grasp’s diploma in French from Brown College. He solid a pioneering path to grow to be the primary particular person of color to succeed in the best ranks of Vogue, and his demise on the age of 73 left a king-size void on the entrance row. And, in a sublime twist that Talley would have adored, it’s the luxurious wardrobe on which he splashed his fortune that can serve to painting him in a extra flattering gentle.
Proceeds from his property sale, that are anticipated to prime $1m, will go to 2 traditionally black church buildings near Talley’s coronary heart: the Abyssinian Baptist church in New York and Mt Sinai Missionary Baptist church in his house city of Durham, North Carolina. The present displays Talley’s deep religion and his generosity of spirit, which was not at all times evident in a way of life stamped throughout with logos and monograms.
Scratch under the floor bling of the public sale’s most eye-catching tons and you’ll uncover a set that speaks to his championing of black expertise (a gold brocade caftan by the influential Harlem designer Dapper Dan, which he wore to a New York trend week present by Carolina Herrera) and his love of artwork (a clutch of Warhols, a portrait of former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland by photographer Horst P Horst and a signed portrait of Karl Lagerfeld by Helmut Newton). The public sale is poised to be a sublime signoff from a person who believed fervently within the transformative energy of trend.
Talley was an advanced, contradictory character. Cathy Horyn, the style editor of the New York Occasions when Talley was in his Vogue period, recalled him final yr as “a mix of southern front-porch grandee … and persnickety Beaton-esque observer”. The grandson of a sharecropper, he was raised by his grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, whose excessive requirements of class and aesthetics he credited with sparking his curiosity in trend. Their laundry was boiled “in a giant black iron cauldron in our yard”, he wrote in his 2003 memoir A.L.T., however “till I left house, I by no means used a towel that hadn’t been ironed”.
By the point he joined Vogue in 1983 and have become a semi-public determine as Wintour’s longstanding chief lieutenant, Talley was already a legend inside trend, his encyclopaedic information of trend historical past set off to perfection by a glittering backstory of apprenticing for Vreeland and clubbing with Karl Lagerfeld.
After I started attending trend exhibits within the late Nineteen Nineties, Talley was in his prime: a glamazon on an enormous scale, draped in furs the dimensions of king-size bedspreads and with a Lauren Hutton hole between his tooth. As soon as he informed me that one thing I had written had amused him – and I hugged the praise to myself for days.
For a few years, Talley championed black designers within the pale pages of Vogue, that includes the work of Patrick Kelly, Kevan Corridor, Stephen Burrows and Willi Smith. Towards the tip of his life, he was an early cheerleader for the designer LaQuan Smith, who has gone on to construct a prestigious model – that buttercup-yellow trench that Priyanka Chopra Jonas is carrying on the duvet of this month’s challenge of British Vogue is one among his. Talley recalled giving him $2,000 of his personal cash to “‘go to Paris … simply seeing how gentle falls on the buildings will encourage you’”. In 2010, Talley persuaded his buddy Serena Williams to assist put Smith on the map by modelling in his New York trend week present.
Highlights from the upcoming sale had been despatched to Paris for the high fashion exhibits this week, the place they had been feted with a champagne reception. Each as a Francophile and as a connoisseur of excessive dwelling, Talley would have liked being honoured throughout couture week, mentioned Deacon Alexis Thomas, the executor of Talley’s property and an in depth buddy. “André liked trend and he liked luxurious. That was how he selected to dwell his life, and he did that fantastically, and this assortment displays that. However our hope is that it additionally displays a holistic sense of who André was as an activist, a buddy and a person of religion.”
The celebration was packed, the champagne free-flowing, the glamorous tchotchkes endlessly diverting – who knew Chanel made hot-water-bottle covers? – however lots of these current gravitated towards the portraits of Talley, reasonably than to his possessions. In a single, an enormous canvas by Kim Cole Moore, the artist borrows Diego Velázquez’s posing of Pope Harmless X for Talley, who wears wealthy white robes and a solemn, figuring out gaze. “He seems so smart, so caring,” mentioned Elizabeth Seigel, Christie’s head of personal and iconic collections. “It captures the dynamic life and character that we are attempting to convey to life by these objects. He was at all times bigger than life – however that is intimate and significant, too.”
However it’s the Vuitton baggage that can appeal to probably the most warmth underneath the hammer, Seigel predicts. “It’s simply so enjoyable. The nearer the affiliation with the person, the extra competitors there normally is, and the bags is each his signature and a bit of trend historical past. A few of them have his title on, and a few have tags from his stays on the Ritz. It’s very charming.”
In his 2020 memoir The Chiffon Trenches, Talley wrote of being underpaid, sidelined and ultimately frozen out by Vogue and by Anna Wintour. It feels poignant that he retained, on this library of prized possessions, an off-the-cuff Annie Leibovitz portrait of Wintour in her New York townhouse. The presence of a number of Andy Warhol originals – together with a silkscreen of a love coronary heart signed as a Valentine’s present – inform a contrasting story of a permanent friendship with Warhol, who Talley labored for early in his profession and stayed near till the artist’s demise. An extended and shut friendship with Lagerfeld ended badly – Talley was apoplectic to search out himself left off the visitor checklist for the designer’s memorial service – however a number of Lagerfeld sketches of the pair collectively converse, right here, to happier days.
Talley’s afterlife as a benefactor was very a lot deliberate prematurely. “He was excited throughout his lifetime by the thought of making a set of trend that may profit the causes that had been vital to him,” mentioned Seigel. The public sale home will companion with the Abyssinian church for a celebration of his life that includes the church choir.
At Talley’s memorial service in Harlem final yr, Michelle Obama paid tribute to his “kindness, allure and electrical energy”, which, she mentioned, “modified the world”. Maybe Talley is fated at all times to be remembered by his stacks of monogrammed baggage. However the tales of the younger designers he helped and the beneficiant legacy bequeathed in his title inform an altogether extra refined story.