Under normal circumstances, asking the question, “How are you?” would likely render a habitual response. “Fine.” But as 2020—and the first few weeks of 2021—proved, there’s nothing normal about the current state of the world. Posing the same question to the famed fashion editor and author of The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, André Leon Talley takes me on a roller coaster of emotions that perfectly captures what we’re all feeling.
“Awful,” he starts, referring to the violent insurrection that took place at the U.S Capitol just five days before our conversation. Then comes the high points: He’s “optimistic” about the new administration. “What gives me hope for the future is President-elect Joe Bide and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In with the new administration and out with an old, monstrous, fascist one,” he says. Talley’s also excited about what Bridgerton adds to diversity in television. “Shonda Rhimes, a Black woman, has redefined TV British costume drama, and brilliantly.” But most of all, Talley is feeling the love.
The legendary creative director is the newest star of Ugg’s ongoing FEEL campaign series, which spotlights the inspiring stories of icons from various industries. An icon in his own right for his decades-spanning career and impact in fashion, it might come as a surprise that Talley has been a longtime fan of the comfy footwear brand. Talley previously made headlines for pairing high fashion looks with Ugg boots while sitting front row at fashion week, and even stated that the brand is “as chic as heels for women.”
In the campaign, Talley takes us to his humble abode in White Plains, NY where he poses in the Ugg Neumel boot in one photo, and the Tasman slippers in another—with appearances from his signature fire red Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat and trademark cape. Tucked away inside his living room, Talley talks about his relationship with Ugg, his trademark uniform, and what being Black in fashion means today.
As someone who is always in an elaborate cape or coat, you’re like the poster child for coziness.
Cozy gives you security. Cozy affords you to be comfortable enough to project your best self to the world.
Is that why you chose the Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat for the campaign?
Of course. I have three red Norma Kamali coats. It basically serves as hugs for comfort. You can go out in a blizzard and you’ll be very, very warm in them. It’s oversized. It gives me a sense of being cocooned in a blanket. It’s a blanket that is thermally warm and light. It doesn’t weigh 10 pounds on your body.
How do you build your outfits? Coat first, everything else after?
The base is my coat and my boots and I build it around that. I don’t have to think about my clothes, I have a uniform. I have shirts made in North Africa, I wear them every day. My accessories are beautiful hats, mostly bought in London at Lock & Co. There’s a special caftan made for me by Tom Ford, and Gucci, and a lady in Nigeria who makes very beautiful caftans. Her name is Patience Torlowei. She makes me beautiful caftans, embroidered, special pieces, but I wear the same thing almost every day.
What’s your earliest memory of Ugg footwear?
My earliest memory of Uggs is probably about ten years ago. When they first came out with something for men, it was the slip-on boots, and I loved it. I had mine monogrammed, and they were just the boots that I went to because I’m at fashion week, running around, and they provided comfort. Listen, I have the most beautiful shoes in the world. I’ve got Tom Ford, I’ve got Berluti shoes, I’ve got Manolo Blahnik bespoke shoes—all those shoes are quite elegant. But when you have been running around fashion week, that Ugg is the utilitarian boot with style. It’s chic and comfortable with a capital “C.”
What’s the significance of shooting on your porch?
It’s my favorite part of my house. I entertain during the pandemic on the porch, during the warm weather. I did all my lunches and dinners outside on the porch because that was the social protocol to avoid COVID. The porch is a symbol of who I am because the porch is part of the Southern way I grew up. We could sit on the porch, all afternoon when it was very hot, and have family over, and talk. When I decided I was going to do this campaign, I wasn’t going to go into town, they had to come to my house. But I wasn’t going to allow them in, so the only practical place was to be outside on the porch.
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Reflecting on your career, how did being the sole Black editor at the helm of a prestigious publication strengthen your ambitions?
It kept me going. I kept getting up every morning and doing the job as best I could, as best I knew how. I tried to represent my race. I felt it was very powerful to be in that position and I always kept a positive outlook. I kept going, kept going, kept going. I am most proud of my time at Vogue Magazine. I am proud to have been the person who interviewed Michelle Obama for her first cover story when she became the first lady. That was my highest achievement.
What’s your general view of the fashion industry today?
It is always moving upward and it’s always going to be there and it’s going to survive through all the ups and downs of 2020 and 2021. There’s always going to be fashion as long as you wake up, and get up, and have to leave your house, there’s always going to be someone making fashion. I love the changes I’ve been seeing lately, like the fact that Ugg picked me to be an iconic brand rep. A 72-year-old black man representing their brand—that’s one of the significant changes.
Who have you been paying attention to in the fashion industry?
LaQuan Smith. He’s self-made, self-taught, and he’s sophisticated.
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