what an auction reveals about the late fashion legend

If you’re looking for a pair of Manolo Blahnik snakeskin slippers in size 43 trimmed with crimson satin ribbon, February 15 could be your lucky day. At auction at New York’s Christie’s of the personal estate of André Leon Talley, the former creative director of American Vogue who died last year, they could be yours for a target price of £400. can be had for around £3,000 (scattered “sun damage” is noted), while two oversized Birkin bags look like a bargain at £4,000. There are no less than 29 Louis Vuitton suitcases up for grabs (including one that made a cameo appearance in the 2008 film Sex and the City), along with a white crocodile Prada coat and an orange Hermès bicycle that Talley never raced but kept in storage at the Ritz in Paris.

When Talley died, Anna Wintour’s garish inventory of his belongings and tales of unpaid rent and a painful exile seemed to paint an operatic, bittersweet portrait of an overdressed and overwrought figure. But Talley was a more creative, interesting, smart and kind person than that. Growing up poor and black in the still-segregated southern United States, he won a full scholarship and graduated with a master’s degree in French from Brown University. He blazed a trailblazing path to becoming the first person of color to reach the top ranks of Vogue, and his death at age 73 left a huge void in the front row. And, in an elegant twist that Talley would have loved, it’s the luxurious wardrobe he splashed his fortune on that will serve to portray him in a more flattering light.

Proceeds from his estate sale, which is expected to exceed $1 million, will go to two historically black churches close to Talley’s heart: the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York and the Mt Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina. The gift reflects Talley’s deep faith and his generosity of spirit, which was not always reflected in a lifestyle filled with logos and monograms.

Scratch beneath the surface bling from the auction’s most eye-catching lots and you’ll discover a collection that speaks to his champion of black talent (a gold brocade caftan by influential Harlem designer Dapper Dan, which he wore at a New York fashion week show by Carolina Herrera) and his love of art (a Warhols clutch, 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 auction is poised to be an elegant farewell to a man who passionately believed in the transformative power of fashion.

Talley was a complicated, contradictory character. Cathy Horyn, the fashion editor of the New York Times when Talley was in his Vogue era, remembered him last year as “a mixture of south-porch grandee … and finicky Beaton-esque observer.” The grandson of a sharecropper, he was raised by his grandmother, Binnie Francis Davis, whose high standards of elegance and aesthetics he said fueled his interest in fashion. Their laundry was cooked “in a big black iron cauldron in our yard,” he wrote in his 2003 memoir ALT, but “until I left the house I never used a towel that wasn’t ironed.”

By the time he joined Vogue in 1983 and became a semi-public figure as Wintour’s longtime chief lieutenant, Talley was already a fashion legend. Carl Lagerfeld.

Related: André Leon Talley: ‘My story is a fairy tale and in every fairy tale there is evil and darkness’

When I started attending fashion shows in the late 1990s, Talley was in his prime: a giant-scale glamazon, draped in fur the size of king-size bedspreads and sporting a Lauren Hutton slit between his teeth. Once he told me that something I had written had amused him – and I embraced the compliment to myself for days.

For years, Talley championed black designers in the pale pages of Vogue, featuring the work of Patrick Kelly, Kevan Hall, Stephen Burrows and Willi Smith. Towards the end of his life, he was an early cheerleader for the designer LaQuan Smith, who built a prestigious brand — that buttercup yellow trench coat Priyanka Chopra Jonas wears on the cover of this month’s British Vogue. one of his. Talley recalled giving him $2,000 of his own money to “‘go to Paris…just seeing the light hit the buildings will inspire you'”. In 2010, Talley persuaded his girlfriend Serena Williams to put Smith on the map by modeling in his New York fashion week show.

Highlights of the upcoming sale were sent to Paris this week for the haute couture shows, where they were celebrated with a champagne reception. Both as a Francophile and a connoisseur of the high life, Talley would have loved to be honored during couture week, said Deacon Alexis Thomas, the executor of Talley’s estate and a close friend. “André loved fashion and he loved luxury. That was how he chose to live his life, and he did it beautifully, and this collection reflects that. But we hope it also reflects a holistic sense of who André was as an activist, friend and man of faith.”

Kim Cole Moore's portrait of Talley.

Kim Cole Moore’s portrait of Talley. Photo: Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters

The party was packed, the champagne flowing freely, the glamorous tchotchkes endlessly entertaining—who knew Chanel made hot water bottle covers? – but many of those present gravitated towards Talley’s portraits rather than his possessions. In one, a huge canvas by Kim Cole Moore, the artist borrows Diego Velázquez’s pose from Pope Innocent X for Talley, who wears a rich white robe and a solemn, knowing look. “He looks so wise, so caring,” said Elizabeth Seigel, head of private collections and iconic collections at Christie’s. “It captures the dynamic life and personality that we try to bring to life with these objects. He was always larger than life – but this is also intimate and meaningful.

But it’s the Vuitton luggage that will draw the most heat under the hammer, Seigel predicts. “It’s just so much fun. The closer the association with the individual, the more competition there is usually, and the baggage is both his signature and a piece of fashion history. Some have his name on them and others have cards from his stay at the Ritz. It’s very charming.”

In his 2020 memoir The Chiffon Trenches, Talley wrote that he was underpaid, sidelined, and eventually shut out by Vogue and by Anna Wintour. It feels poignant that in this library of prized possessions he kept an informal Annie Leibovitz portrait of Wintour in her New York townhouse. The presence of several Andy Warhol originals – including a serigraph of a love heart signed as a Valentine’s gift – tells a contrasting story of an enduring friendship with Warhol, for whom Talley worked early in his career and remained close to him until the artist’s death . A long and close friendship with Lagerfeld ended badly — Talley was stunned to find he wasn’t on the guest list for the designer’s memorial service — but several Lagerfeld sketches of the couple together here speak to happier days.

Talley’s afterlife as a benefactor was planned in advance. “Even in his lifetime he was excited by the idea of ​​creating a fashion collection that would benefit the charities that were important to him,” said Seigel. The auction house will partner with the Abyssinian Church for a celebration of his life with the church choir.

At Talley’s memorial service in Harlem last year, Michelle Obama paid tribute to his “kindness, charm and electricity,” which, she said, “changed the world.” Perhaps Talley is destined to always be remembered for his piles of monogrammed luggage. But the stories of the young designers he helped and the generous legacy he left to his name tell a much more sophisticated story.

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