Over a month has passed since New York Fashion Week, yet when André Leon Talley stepped into the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Wednesday afternoon, he looked as if he had just stepped off the runway.
The nearly 300 audience members fell silent as Talley, American editor-at-large of Vogue magazine, walked down the aisle wearing a Chado Ralph Rucci black silk gazar court coat and followed by an entourage of personal photographer and a blogger who came to New Haven to blog about the event.
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“My wardrobe is my capital,” Talley chuckled.
But Talley’s life was not always filled with glamour and high couture fashion. He was raised in North Carolina by his grandmother, Bennie Davis, who he said was the greatest inspiration in his life. Although she was a maid, that did not stop her from having dignity, Talley said; she had one fabulous black suit, fabulous shoes and drawers full of scarves and gloves. But her greatest luxury was to go to the hairdresser to maintain her blue hair.
“My grandmother had a discipline about style,” he said. “She used to tell me that maintenance is everything.”
Talley emphasized that he values his past, drawing inspiration from even seemingly insignificant incidents. For instance, after church on Sundays, Talley said he would come home to watch Julia Child on television.
“I couldn’t care less about what she was cooking,” Talley said. “It was what she was saying. The way she would say ‘bon appetit’ took me to Paris. It was such an inspiration.”
Inspiration was a common thread throughout the Master’s Tea. Talley encouraged audience members to find inspiration in their own world.
As he took time for a short question and answer session, he complimented one audience member’s braided hair, another’s pink jacket and another’s high heels. Asked what he thought of Yalies’ fashion, he simply remarked that college is an important time to find one’s own fashion identity.
In 2009, Talley joined the panel of judges on the television show “America’s Next Top Model.” Talley, who has known the show’s producer, Tyra Banks, since she was only 16, said he is there to be brutally honest while also acting as the contestants’ support coach. They are new to the industry and at times can act inappropriately towards their superiors, Talley said.
“I ask them things like, ‘Are you going to send a thank-you note to this person that just hired you?’” Talley said. “I call it the André Leon Talley School of Etiquette.”
Talley only briefly touched on his position in the fashion industry and at Vogue, instead focusing on specific anecdotes about his personal life.
Sarah Brown ’12 said she wished Talley would have talked more about how young people infiltrate the industry today.
“I would have loved his advice on how someone my age could break into the industry,” Brown said. “I have a good friend that basically wants to be him someday.”
Louise Bernard GRD ’05, a curator at the Beinecke, who organized the event in association with Ezra Stiles College and Ycouture, said she admired Talley not only as a fashion expert, but also as a writer.
In addition to having penned a memoir, Talley writes monthly columns and a blog for Vogue magazine.
Correction: March 28, 2010
An earlier version of this article misidentified Eric Gaskins. Gaskins is a blogger and a friend of Talley’s who followed him to New Haven to blog about the event, not Talley’s personal blogger.