ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY ALWAYS LIVED GLAMOROUSLY

Style permeated every aspect of André Leon Talley’s life. The pioneering fashion editor, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 73 , may have been best known for his front-row appearances, quippy grandiloquence, and voluminous caftans, but decorating remained a prevailing passion—and obsession. To wit: While a student at Brown, he splurged on an Yves Saint Laurent sheet set. Later, as creative director at Vogue, he would carpet his office with elaborate Aubusson rugs and fill his garden with hydrangeas and cherry trees.

Talley himself traced his fascination with interiors back to his childhood in Durham, North Carolina, where he watched Jackie Kennedy lead a televised tour of the White House in 1962. “It was then I learned the word ‘Porthault’; the Parisian linen firm had donated a long white tablecloth for the State Dining Room, hand-embroidered in gold thread,” Talley recalled in his 2020 memoir The Chiffon Trenches“From her quiet, elegant manner of speaking, her control of her message, her focus on the history of this great edifice, I learned my passion and love for antiques and the finer things.”

He carried that appreciation for beauty (Porthault linens included) with him for the rest of his days. ELLE DECOR executive editor Ingrid Abramovitch caught up with Talley in 2013, shortly after his exit from Vogue and on the heels of a fresh appointment at Numéro Russia magazine (he left the publication in 2014). As Talley reveals in this exclusive interview, the most exquisite things in life are often the ones closest to home.


Talk fashion—or his other favorite pastime, decorating—with André Leon Talley, and the conversation is packed with superlatives. “Marvelous! Extraordinary! Over-the-top!” exclaims the larger-than-life fashion personality, whether he’s discussing the latest couture shows or the world’s chicest homes, where he is a regular guest. Last spring Talley—a protégé of Diana Vreeland and sartorial consultant to the Obama family—left Vogue’s staff after three decades (he remains a contributor) to become international editor at large of Russian style magazine Numéro Russia. His latest project, Little Black Dress (Rizzoli), is a book and traveling exhibition that he curated for the museum at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he serves on the board of trustees. “In the fashion world,” Talley observes, “there is never a dull moment.”

ON DAZZLING DECOR

“The late São Schlumberger’s houses in Paris were unforgettable. Her 18th-century townhouse had stainless steel floors in the library, tortoise-shell-inlaid walls, and a disco in the basement with a floor that lit up.”

“Karl Lagerfeld could be an incredible decorator. I visited his famous Paris mansion at 51 Rue de l’Université, which he decorated with 18th-century furniture and rugs from Versailles. He now lives in a flat filled with Sue et Mare furniture and modernist sofas. Everything he touches is inspiring.”

fashion designer karl lagerfeld in his paris home photo by jacques pavlovskysygma via getty images
Karl Lagerfeld at home in the 1970s.

Jacques Pavlovsky/SygmaGetty Images

ON ELEGANT ENTERTAINING—AND WHOOPI GOLDBERG

“Dining with Oscar and Annette de la Renta is as good as it gets. Every detail is perfect: flowers, food, porcelain, silver, and lighting. At their home in Connecticut, as soon as you enter, you smell the marvelous scent of apples, which they simmer in a pressure cooker with cinnamon and spices.”

“You wouldn’t expect it, but Whoopi Goldberg is one of the best hostesses. Her china cabinet is like nothing I’ve ever seen in all the world. I go to her house for Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s always a feast for the eyes.”

visits siriusxm studios on april 14, 2017 in new york city
Talley with longtime friend Whoopi Goldberg in 2017.

Jamie McCarthyGetty Images

ON RUSSIA

“Last year Numéro Russia magazine sought me out. It has been a creative playpen. My first cover story was on Naomi Campbell, who [with then-Russian entrepreneur boyfriend Vladislav Doronin] commissioned a house by Zaha Hadid outside of Moscow. It looks like something out of The Jetsons. The main bedroom is way up in the clouds, like a moon launch pad.”

“What I love about Russian architecture are those old onion-dome churches you see in small villages in the country. Humble people built them and created such beauty.”

ON HOME

“I was tired of living in New York City. My childhood was spent in a place where there were trees and birds. I needed to go back to that for balance. I have found it in my house in White Plains, New York. It sustains me and calms me down.”

I grew up with my grandmother in North Carolina. Our wealth was in love, church, and family.

“I grew up with my grandmother in North Carolina. Our wealth was in love, church, and family. She always had beautiful geraniums in clay pots on the porch in the summer and Christmas cacti in winter. My job was scrubbing the porch with soap and water. It was painted gray, and you could see your reflection in it when the water was drying.”

ON BEDROOMS

interior design, room, textile, drawer, furniture, home, bed, floor, wall, bedroom,
Veronica Swanson Beard’s Long Island bedroom, as shown in ELLE DECOR’s archive, features a bed upholstered in an Oscar de la Renta floral and dressed in linens by D. Porthault—two of Talley’s favorites.

Douglas Friedman

“My bed is my prized possession. Oscar de la Renta designed it for me. It’s a black ebonized four-poster. I love to dress it up outrageously with prohibitively priced sheets that I buy at the annual D. Porthault sale. A well-dressed bed is the ultimate luxury at the end of the day.”

A well-dressed bed is the ultimate luxury at the end of the day.

“I have a guest room, but few people have slept there. I want my guests to experience perfection, and I don’t have the time. Friends ask to come visit, but you have to be very special to spend the night.”

ON DRESSING UP

wendell corey on the bed looking at joan crawford in a scene from the film 'harriet craig', 1950 photo by columbia picturesgetty images
Joan Crawford in the 1950 film Harriet Craig.

Photo by Columbia PicturesGetty Images

“If you want to splurge, buy yourself a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes. They’ll make your little black dress pop. For a splurge for your home, go to Calvin Klein and get a cabled Hampton alpaca-and-cashmere throw. It looks like something a sailor would knit but much more luxurious.”

You can also become a victim of your rooms…That is to be avoided at all costs.

“I love the houses in old Hollywood films—the cozy chintz room in The Philadelphia Story or Jean Harlow’s boudoir in Dinner at Eight. But you can also become a victim of your rooms. Harriet Craig, with Joan Crawford, is an amazing film about how you can get trapped in your own world of fabulousness. That is to be avoided at all costs.”

 

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