For nearly three decades, fashion editor André Leon Talley has been synonymous with Vogue, so it came as a shock to the fashion industry in 2013, when the iconic fixture in Anna Wintour’s camp quietly departed the magazine in 2013 to become the editor-at-large of Numéro Russia. In a new interview with Oprah, that will air tonight at 9pm on OWN, Talley opens up about why, exactly, he went to work for “The Russians,” sheds light on what it was like for him to work with the magazine’s notorious Editor-In-Chief, and talks the ever-important issue of lack of diversity in the fashion industry.
Though there was much speculation as to why he jumped ship at Vogue to work for “the Russians,” Talley told Oprah his reasons was pretty simple, for starters: a bigger paycheck was involved. “The Russians offered me a whirlwind of money,” he said. “I took the job because I thought it was going to be wonderful financially, and I needed a change. I needed to challenge myself.”
He’s certainly had a hell of a run at the American “Fashion Bible.”
Talley joined the ranks in 1983 as fashion news editor, after a stint as a volunteer at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art helped him cross paths with then-Vogue editor Diana Vreeland who mentored him and ultimately hired him for the job. As he ascended in rank at the magazine to Editor-At-Large, Talley was not only one of the few Black editors behind the magazine, but he also became a face nearly as recognizable as the brand itself, as highlighted in documentaries like “The September Issue” and cameo roles as himself, in movies like “Sex In The City.” Shoe designer Manolo Blahnik summed up the sentiments of several designers and industry insiders when is said, in 2010: “André doesn’t have fashion. André himself is fashion.”
But getting to that level of distinction wasn’t easy for the icon, who hails from Durham, North Carolina and graduated from North Carolina Central University, before getting a master’s degree in French from Brown University. “Don’t think that I’m sitting here looking glamorous, and it’s easy,” he told Oprah. “A crystal stair wasn’ put in front of me and I just glided up it. I absolutely struggled to maintain and get to the top.”
Talley will reportedly discuss the lack of diversity in the fashion industry as he details his own experiences during the interview. And at Numéro, he’s still working to include a wider variety of shades on the newsstands. In March 2013 he swooped in and placed Naomi Campbell on cover after the magazine came under fire for a featuring a white model in blackface in a feature called “African Queen.” While some questions Campbell’s inclusion, given the list of more “popular” models in Russia, Talley defended his choice telling WWD: “I chose her because she lives in Russia now, she has a Russian life with her boyfriend Vladimir [Doronin]. They have an extraordinary new house by Zaha Hadid, and I was privileged enough to see it before it was completed. It’s extraordinarily modern to be in Russia.”
Watch a clip of the former Vogue editor’s interview about his new post below, and check out his sit down with Oprah in its entirety on a special episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now? airing tonight at 9pm on the OWN Network. Though this isn’t the fashion editor’s first stint with the media mogul. In 2005, Anna Wintour initiated a big intervention to help Talley lose weight that was fodder for an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, that followed his efforts to slim down and get healthier.