Ex-Vogue Luminary Andre Leon Talley Says Diversity In Fashion Is Still Missing

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If you are into fashion, there’s a good chance you are familiar with who Andre Leon Talley is. Next to Anna Wintour, he was the most important name at Vogue, being the editor-at-large under her helm for 3 decades. The 65 year old from Durham, North Carolina has also worked at Women’s Wear Daily, was a judge for 4 seasons on America’s Next Top Model alongside supermodel host and creator Tyra Banks, and currently serves as the artistic director of Zappos couture.

For most of his fashion career he has been seen in the front row of ever major fashion show at every major fashion week, alongside Anna Wintour. While he did not appear beside his old boss at fashion week in New York, London, Milan or Paris just these past few weeks, he is certainly still making his presence felt in a big way.

He was interviewed by the Huffington Post as part of their ‘Yes, You Can Make It In Fashion‘ series and used it as an opportunity to talk about an issue that is very dear to him: diversity.

Diversity in fashion is a glass ceiling that is unlike any other. Because it is a creative industry (albeit it run by corporate money in a larger sense) perhaps it has been easy for industry insiders to be less accountable in the name of a certain aesthetic. But now the public are calling BS on that excuse. There is no reason why a woman of color cannot sashay down the runway in a garment that is being modeled by a skinny white girl. (Note: this is not a dis against skinny white girls, we are just trying to make a point in the favor of minorities).

Supermodel Iman who has been in the biz for decades has previously spoken about how she saw more diversity back in the 1970s. No words…

Naomi Campbell, Iman and fashion activist Bethann Hardison have been campaigning all the organizations who put on the major fashion week events around the world to pull up their socks and address the issue of the lack of diversity on the runway.

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From an African American male perspective, Andre Leon Talley says there are ceilings he should’ve broken, given his impressive resume and reputation, yet he has failed to do so.

“How many African-American or any diverse ethnic individuals do you have at the heads of any of the high niche magazines or high niche design brands? You can count them on one finger. How many people are there that have broken the glass ceiling? There are very, very few,” he says.

One of the reasons he believes fashion has nor progressed on the diversity front is because it is only reflecting what is going on elsewhere in the world, sadly.

“The world has really not changed and you have to be acutely aware of the world around you. One of the reasons that I think the world has not changed, being a black man, is that people try to look at me without color, but color is always there.”

The recent violent outbreak in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, after unarmed young black man Michael Brown was merciless shot dead by police was another reminder of this.

“The whole Ferguson situation was a throwback to me of the late fifties and growing up in the South and the civil rights era. This is always a permanent part of the American mainstream. And people do not feel comfortable addressing it. Therefore there are ceilings that I have not broken that I should have broken already and one is television.”

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To be honest, we never thought someone as accomplished as ALT (who has an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Savannah College of Art and Design) would be lamenting the abysmal landscape of fashion from such a high position, but it just goes to show that no one is immune to barriers. The notion of being individual is not necessarily celebrated or encouraged. Fashion, of all industries is a great believer and enforcer of homogeneity.

“When you think about the world, the world does not accept uniqueness, the world does not accept difference. Do you know how hard it is for me to come out wearing this? What some people consider a dress? What I’m wearing is what men in North Africa wear everyday. It takes a lot of courage to get up and to be me. And I think it takes a lot of courage to even get up and face the world because the standards of the world aren’t always necessarily my standards, but I live in the world of success, I live in the world of whiteness and success.”

Part of his decision to leave Vogue was because he felt he had nowhere to go.

“I felt I had gone to what is called the glass ceiling there, and nothing else was going to happen,” he told Oprah in February. “I went to Anna Wintour and told her, quite frankly, I need to think about my future.”

Hear Andre talk about his experience of the pushback against diversity in fashion in the video below. It’s sad that an industry so dependent on new trends and progression is still so far behind on a humanity level. It’s one of the reasons we feel passionate about sharing these stories and allowing more and more people to realize why raising our voices is important.

 

 

 

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