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A treasure of the fashion world, André Leon Talley was impossible to ignore

Vogue editor and fashion icon André Leon Tally attends The CW: It's A Reality at Simyone Lounge on February 23, 2010 in New York City.
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Vogue editor and fashion icon André Leon Tally attends The CW: It's A Reality at Simyone Lounge on February 23, 2010 in New York City.

You couldn't miss André Leon Talley.

Six foot six. Bedecked in splendid capes and caftans, classic bespoke suits, fur coats and record-album-sized sunglasses. The legendary fashion editor died suddenly and unexpected at age 73, reportedly of a heart attack.

"André was hard to ignore," says Karen Grigsby Bates, of NPR's Codeswitch podcast . "He was tall and large with a big voice."

That voice rang out with fashion authority from a very young age. Raised by his grandmother in Durham, N.C. during the 1950s, Talley escaped the era's vicious racial politics in part by immersing himself in copies of Vogue at the local public library. He attended Brown University on scholarship, majored in French literature and immediately afterwards, apprenticed with former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland at the Met's Costume Institute in 1974.

From there, Talley spring boarded into the white hot center of the fashion universe: working at Interview Magazine, Women's Wear Daily, and of course Vogue, where he was a star editorial mainstay for decades, starting in 1983. But being the lone Black person on mastheads and the front row of shows took a psychic toll, which he wrote about in his two memoirs, the last of which came out in 2017.

"Fashion does not take care of its people," Talley told the New York Times in 2018. "No one is going to take care of me, except I am going to take care of myself."

But Talley did take care of other people. As a judge on America's Next Top Model, he was sharp and insightful, never cruel. He agitated for more Black and diverse representation in fashion, from the celebrities gracing Vogue's covers to the designers who dressed its models.

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<strong>1979</strong>: Diana Ross and André Leon Talley dancing at Studio 54, in New York City.
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1979: Diana Ross and André Leon Talley dancing at Studio 54, in New York City.
<strong>1980:</strong> André Leon Talley and Marina Schiano in New York City.
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1980: André Leon Talley and Marina Schiano in New York City.
<strong>1990</strong>: André Leon Talley and Marc Jacobs during Oscar de la Renta and Carolyn Roehm Spring Fashion Show on November 30 at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, New York, United States.
Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
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Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
1990: André Leon Talley and Marc Jacobs during Oscar de la Renta and Carolyn Roehm Spring Fashion Show on November 30 at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, New York, United States.
<strong>Mid 1990s:</strong> André Leon Talley, left, and Kristen McMenamy, right, during fashion week in New York City, New York.
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Mid 1990s: André Leon Talley, left, and Kristen McMenamy, right, during fashion week in New York City, New York.
<strong>2006</strong>: André Leon Talley at Dana Buchman during Olympus Fashion Week Fall 2006 at 1441 Broadway Show Room in New York City.
Duffy-Marie Arnoult / WireImage/Getty Images
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WireImage/Getty Images
2006: André Leon Talley at Dana Buchman during Olympus Fashion Week Fall 2006 at 1441 Broadway Show Room in New York City.
<strong>2011</strong>: André Leon Talley and Anna Wintour attend the Donna Karan New York Fall 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on Feb. 14 in New York City.
Eugene Gologursky / WireImage/Getty Images
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WireImage/Getty Images
2011: André Leon Talley and Anna Wintour attend the Donna Karan New York Fall 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on Feb. 14 in New York City.
<strong>2011</strong>: Designer Norma Kamali, left, and editor Andre Leon Talley, right, attend the Norma Kamali Spring 2012 collection and launch of NORMAKAMALI3D at David Rubenstein Atrium on Sept. 14 in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images for Norma Kamali
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Getty Images for Norma Kamali
2011: Designer Norma Kamali, left, and editor Andre Leon Talley, right, attend the Norma Kamali Spring 2012 collection and launch of NORMAKAMALI3D at David Rubenstein Atrium on Sept. 14 in New York City.
<strong>2014</strong>: André Leon Talley attends the memorial service for L'Wren Scott at St. Bartholomew's Church on May 2 in New York City.
John Lamparski / Getty Images
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2014: André Leon Talley attends the memorial service for L'Wren Scott at St. Bartholomew's Church on May 2 in New York City.
Andre Leon Talley speaks regarding "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between" during "Sunday At The Met: Andrew Bolton And Andre Leon Talley" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 18, 2017 in New York City.
Taylor Hill / Getty Images
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Andre Leon Talley speaks regarding "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between" during "Sunday At The Met: Andrew Bolton And Andre Leon Talley" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 18, 2017 in New York City.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.