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Tale of Two Giants

How the two most powerful men in fashion helped change the world

The fashion world suffered two immense losses recently. In a blink of an eye, and just two months apart, Andre Leon Talley and Virgil Abloh were no longer here physically.

They were giants — not just in stature. But because of their vision, mastery and leadership, they’ve left behind history-bending legacies. Both creating a broader representation of Black faces in spaces we were frankly, not welcome or accepted.

Andre Leon Talley was a tall Black man with a larger-than-life personality, and that did not fit the mold of your typical fashion savant.

He grew up in the segregated South during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and found his escape through the discovery of Vogue Magazine as a young man in a local library. While thumbing through the pages he saw Black people for the first time, and in those moments decided that fashion couldn’t be racist.

Decades later, he would serve as Editor-At-Large for Vogue Magazine, and editor for many other publications under the Conde Nast masthead.

Some would call it serendipitous, however, as he rose to prominence and success in his field, he faced tremendous amounts of prejudice and bigotry.

Talley knew that in order to move the needle he had to be exceptional. Like so many of us, his strength was in his excellence, and that was undeniable. Through his pioneering and example, the door left open was in a position to be kicked in.

Virgil Abloh entered the street fashion scene designing T-shirts while studying architecture in Illinois. He witnessed the work ethic of immigrant parents who themselves had a background in design, so it was a natural progression for him. He learned how to sew early on from his mother, who was a seamstress. That building block and the cultivation of his many other gifts would catapult him to global fame.

Virgil met Kanye West at a local print shop in Chicago. After interning together at Fendi in 2009, the two began their artistic collaboration that launched his career into founding his first fashion house, Off-White, in 2013.

By the end of 2018, Off-White was ranked the hottest label in the world, surpassing Gucci.

He envisioned what others could not: a hybrid of high fashion and street. Representative of his upbringing in Chicago and a heavy influence of Hip Hop culture. And he geared his design messaging toward a generation that hadn't yet been marketed luxury.

He often talked in interviews about another form of segregation, that which the high society art and fashion worlds have created to ‘gatekeep’ against the rest of the population.

He was determined to bridge that divide.

The birth of Off-White (the grey area between Black and White, he explained) challenged the idea that one demographic was the deciding factor of culture.

He understood as a creator of contemporary arts that there were new limits to be set. He was able to see that tastes were evolving and that societal constructs that seemed impossible during the era of Andre Leon Talley were now possible. Through that visionary lens, he ushered us into a new era of fashion.

Virgil transcended the standard when he became the first African-American to serve as artistic director of a French fashion house. He entered Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection in 2018 and was given increased creative responsibilities across the brand in early 2021. His transformative design aesthetic infused new life into a world that was not built to include him. A world that he saw changing long before the rest of us would catch on.

These giants altered the realm of possibility for kids that looked like us. The impact of their presence in every space they entered was unforgettable, immutable and profound. They understood their influence and leveraged it, incredibly and, in the most powerful ways. Their stories and works will continue to inspire many to chase the dreams of their youth.

Check out The Quintessential Gentleman's Power Issue below.


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