When legendary fashion editor André Leon Talley passed away on Jan. 18, 2022, the world collectively paused. Tributes poured in as many remembered him as the first, and often only, Black man to reach the Mount Everest of heights in the fashion world. Those rarefied milestones included titles not limited to journalist, stylist, editor-at-large and, later, creative director of American Vogue. He was the magazine’s first Black male creative director from 1988 to 1995 and would be in its orbit until his final departure in 2013. Naturally, many wondered what would become of his most prized possessions.
As one of the most meticulous tastemakers of our generation, Talley was not one to leave anything to chance. His ascension from humble beginnings in North Carolina to the world stage of high fashion was not by luck, but by tenacity and dedication to developing his many gifts. One of those gifts was his high taste level, which he honed and shared with the world at large, so when it was announced that he chose Christie’s auction house to feature a selection of his life’s collectibles, some were dismayed. They wanted his collection in museums and retrospectives, but Talley had other plans.
The Collection of André Leon Talley began as a multi-city tour that made stops in Paris and Palm Beach, Florida before ending in a live and online auction in New York during fashion week in February. It was a fitting and grand tour deserving of the globe-trotting and larger-than-life editor who spent much of his time traveling the world, uncovering and transmuting all that inspired him. The collection included everything from art to bespoke clothes, interior design, jewelry, and personal artifacts that he picked up during his life’s journey. The collection is also a testament to the bonds he developed with many of fashion’s most prolific designers, artists, and thinkers throughout his lifetime.
Standout pieces in the auction included original artworks by Andy Warhol and Antonio Lopez, photos from noted photographers Herb Ritts and Arthur Elgort, and many portraits of himself and Diana Vreeland, the most important figure in his life after his grandmother. As the former editor-in-chief of Vogue and Talley’s first mentor, Vreeland was one of the many women who held pivotal roles in his life by validating, supporting, and furthering his career. The portraits of Talley often showed him in his grandest moments: A photo of him in black tie dress with Oprah Winfrey; another one of him in front of a majestic oak tree in Savannah, GA; a few of Talley during his stint in Russia looking regal as ever in his caftans; and another that showed the legend leaving a private plane. While these images were momentary captures of days in his life, they proved to be aspirational and covetable to others, fetching triple the amount of the projected estimates at the final sale.
Talley often charmed and inspired designers with his intellect, and in turn, they created custom clothes for him. At a striking 6’6″, he was known for his love of all things regal as far as his dressing style, so caftans, capes, and kimonos became a uniform way of life for the pioneer. Some of Talley‘s most notable caftans appeared in the auction, including hand-crafted creations by designers like Tom Ford during and after his Gucci era, Dapper Dan, Ralph Rucci, Balenciaga, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, and a few from close friend and designer Diane von Furstenberg. The caftans were so grand and luxurious that it felt like an emperor’s wardrobe was on display and of course, only the best materials were used. Four particular caftans by Nigerian designer Patience Torlowei caught my eye — and bidders alike — because of the intricate embroidery.
Other standout clothing items included three Chanel silk velvet jackets; a group of original Gianni Versace silk baroque shirts; six custom crocodile Prada coats, which sold for a combined $148,000; a gold embroidered Jean Paul Gaultier bolero; and his infamous red “sleeping bag” coat by Norma Kamali, forever canonized in fashion history as the inspiration behind Rihanna’s 2023 Super Bowl halftime show look. A multitude of accessories that included bespoke hats, gloves, scarves, and sunglasses rounded out his wardrobe while jewelry included massive Chanel pendants and brooches, as well as vintage Jacob & Co. watches.
Next in popularity was his collection of Louis Vuitton luggage and other rare bags, including two Hermes Birkin bags, Fendi carry-alls, and other various designer handbags, all jumbo in size like their larger-than-life owner. A set of six brown monogrammed Louis Vuitton canvas bags sat under an anecdote from Talley himself that read, “I simply NEED a Louis Vuitton oversized trunk to travel with!” That lot sold for $17,640 while two limited edition Louis Vuitton x Stephen Sprouse runway trunks gifted to Talley by Marc Jacobs sold for $69,300. Other sales that rounded out the bag portion included multiple sets of monogrammed, lacquered by hand, hard-sided personalized LV suitcases that cemented Talley’s commitment to traveling in style.
Altogether, sales from the online and live auction totaled over $3.5 million, and the proceeds will go to two churches of his choice: The Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York and Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Both churches were instrumental and dear to André Leon Talley’s growth and heart. As the fashion community continues to mourn the loss of one of its brightest stars, his life in the chiffon trenches will always be a testament to the places that high style coupled with educated taste can take you!