For many years in the fashion industry, I felt like an outsider. Despite my deep desire to work at a glossy high fashion magazine, I received rejection letter after rejection letter when sending over my resume. I ultimately started my own website FashionBombDaily.com out of necessity, as an outlet to satiate my passion for writing and fashion.
All along the way, Andre Leon Talley stood to me as a beacon of what was possible. Because of him, I believed it was achievable to climb to the upper echelons of fashion. Because of Andre, I wasn’t afraid to quit my job as a researcher/reporter and move to Paris at the age of 28. Because he could, I did. And while it took me a bit longer to hit my stride, and decades before he would ever ‘see’ me, Talley eventually came to respect my hustle, undoubtedly because my writing demanded he get the flowers and respect he has so long deserved. I wasn’t shy about lauding his astounding achievements in the face of incomparable adversity.
And in his passing, he unknowingly helped me to feel more on the inside. On Friday, I shared space with fashion icons like Anna Wintour, Naomi Campbell, Emil Wilbekin, Bevy Smith, Diane von Furstenberg, Fern Mallis, Robert Verdi, Miss Jay Alexander, Teri Agins, Robin Givhan, Harriette Cole, Audrey Smaltz, Tracy Reese, Kimora Lee Simmons, and more as we collectively mourned his death and celebrated his life. I literally used to dream of meeting so many of the people I now consider professional colleagues and friends.
It was also important for me to capture the historical moment and the people who were there.
While there were many photographers stationed outside, few may recognize or even bother to photograph Audrey Smaltz, who was the voice of The Ebony Fashion Fair for seven years, and who later went on to build one of the biggest back stage businesses, The Ground Crew, mentoring and exposing hundreds of young people of color to the fashion industry.
Or Steve Stoute, the man behind the scenes, brokering brand deals for many of our favorite stars. He accompanied the beautiful Naomi Campbell (in Schiaparelli) to the proceedings, and left with her in a white Rolls Royce.
Some may not see them, but I see them. They deserve their flowers and recognition now, when they can still smell them. It’s still important to own our narrative so that our contributions are not forgotten, overlooked, or diminished.
In his book, the Chiffon Trenches, Andre writes, “The power in knowledge cannot be understated. Whenever people ask me for advice, I tell them two things: Never give up on your dreams, and do your homework. “Homework” can mean a lot of things, but do you homework in life…my great depth of knowledge is the number one skill I possess and has carried me throughout my career to this day. Rivers deep, mountains high. All the people who mattered in my life have approached me because of my knowledge. Throughout my career, designers liked spending time with me because I studied, and I studied, and I resolved to learn as much as I could.”
Mr. Talley was intelligent. Exceptionally bright. He was a light to many in his life. And he has passed the torch to so many in the fashion industry. So that we can continue to dream BIG. But also do the work it takes to get to where we need to go.
May we all keep his spirit and light alive.
Love & Light,
Images: Salvatore Demaio