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OP-ED: André Leon Talley - A Fashion Icon And Forever Friend

André taught me to move with confidence and to enter all situations fearlessly. - DeJuan Guess

It's 2013 New York City, and I'm a green 25-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, working on 5th ave at the Louis Licari salon as a receptionist. I was taking client calls in my office when I overheard an infectious laugh that could stop you in your tracks. I peaked around the corner, and that full-belly chuckle was coming from this larger-than-life regular who would come for his bi-weekly mani-pedi, André Leon Talley

When he finished up, he made his way over to me and asked where I was from. "Kentucky," I uttered with a shaky apprehension. I was slightly embarrassed by my southern accent, which I'm sure prompted his question. I let him know that I came to the city for a Public Relations internship, and I could tell he was fully engaged in my story. André responded by saying he was looking for an assistant and gave me his email address to send my resume. Little did I know, that brief exchange with André would change my life.

After a few weeks of countless follow-up emails and phone calls, I was sitting at his management agency signing my contract. It never occurred to me that I would be a fashion assistant to the former Editor-at-Large of Vogue Magazine. I didn't study fashion, and I had never imagined working in the industry on this level. Of course, I knew who André was from watching his seasons as a judge on America's Next Top Model, and if I'm being honest, I thought my career would parallel The Devil Wears Prada (which excited and scared the hell out of me). 

It took some time, but eventually, the anxiety of becoming an overworked fashion assistant was put to rest. André showed me the ropes and taught me the tricks of the trade. Was he tough? Yes! There were times I wanted to give up and walk out, but he would never allow me to renege on the commitment I made to him and myself. André saw something in me that I never saw in myself prior to working with him. He taught me to move with confidence and to enter all situations fearlessly. I was not just an assistant in his eyes, and he made that known to everyone around us. No matter where we were, whether it be an industry event, MET Gala fitting, or lunch with his colleagues, he made sure never to dim my light. I will never forget how starstruck I was around some of his celebrity friends. He would always remind me to relax because "those people" are just like me.

I was André's assistant for just about two years. What started as a business relationship converted to having a mentor and a forever friend. I remember trying to convince André that he needed to get on Instagram, and as hesitant as he was, he let me make one for him and run it. He garnered over 50 thousand followers in a week, which was very impressive at that time. While preparing for Fashion Week one year, I remember André saying that I needed a "good shoe" to wear. He never made me feel bad for not having much of a fashion sense, but I knew that he wanted me to feel like I belonged. So, he bought me my first pair of designer shoes: Marc Jacobs loafers. Needless to say, I walked with my head held high that week.

André wanted me to shine. It was never about running errands or taking pictures. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for my dear friend. He wrote me heartfelt job recommendations and loved to see how I elevated my career. Even after my time as his assistant, I would still get 5 a.m. check-in emails asking for life updates. Many remember André for being a fashion pioneer, one who broke barriers and electrified each room he stepped into, but I remember him as one who opened doors for many Black boys like myself. André will be missed, but his legacy will live on to inspire generations to come.

Thank you, A.L.T. Rest well, friend.

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