Over four decades in the fashion industry, André Leon Talley has established himself as a true tour-de-force. Known for his flamboyant personality and striking garb -- he often wears large coats over his six-foot, seven-inch frame -- Talley has held a crucial role in shaping the current fashion world. A small-town boy from Durham, North Carolina, Talley was raised by his grandmother who fostered his “love of luxury,” from an early age. He moved to New York at 26 -- where his talent and dedication were recognized by notables including Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and Andy Warhol (for whom Talley first worked for $50 a week). As Vogue's editor-at-large for 15 years, Talley both created and influenced the industry’s dialogue alongside Anna Wintour. Before his Fashion Icon Talk with Fern Mallis at the 92Y in New York City on Tuesday, Talley -- now editor-in-chief of Numéro Russia -- answered our questions about his greatest fears, his thoughts on racism on the runway and, naturally, Miley Cyrus.
1. What do you normally eat for breakfast?
I now drink a powder mix to loose weight from Dr. Charles Passler -- something called Medical Food.
2. What are you most afraid of?
I'm afraid of any type of snake, unless it's been turned into gloves, a maxi coat, shoes, belts, etc.
3. What do you sleep in?
I sleep in the nude.
4. Who do you think is the most beautiful woman in the world?
There are so many beautiful women in this world. The most elegant woman in this world is Queen Elizabeth II. She is the ultimate in elegance.
5. Were the Vogue editors ever planning to put Miley Cyrus on the magazine's cover?
Ask Anna Wintour about that. I'm out of the loop on Miley Cyrus.
6. Now that fashion month is winding down, do you think there has been any progress with the issue of racism on the runways? How are you continuing your work towards improving this problem?
We, the Black Coalition, have made great strides. Valentino opened its show in Paris with a black model, Malaika Firth. There are still houses that need educating, but it’s not my place to name them here. What we have witnessed is a great new moment in the impact of the international letters sent by the Diversity and Balance Coalition. In Milan, Phillip Plein did an all-black cabine and went even further -- making the ultimate commitment -- by booking all black models for his spring 2014 ad campaign.
7. If you could put Michelle Obama in anything, what would it be?
For Michelle Obama, another Alaïa belt or dress!
8. What was your favorite moment or spread from the latest Numéro Russia?
I am so proud of my couture portfolio shot by Jonathan Becker, Vanity Fair photographer. It was reality couture, shot with mothers and their daughters. It’s a huge success in Paris.
9. What’s on your fashion industry bucket list? Or on your life’s bucket list?
Bucket list: fashion shows without music. Sometimes just the noise of cameras clicking is music.
10. What’s the funniest chunk of advice you’ve been told?
Someone in Paris, a great visionary retailer, told me to ask the Russians for more money and a private plane for travel to Moscow.
11. Who is an up-and-comer that we should look out for? (Designer, blogger, model, etc.)
The beautiful model Grace Bol is the new model to watch.