NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Condolences poured in Wednesday for iconic fashion journalist André Leon Talley, lovingly referred to by colleagues as the "Pharaoh of Fabulosity,"
The grandeur of Talley's presence, from his 6-foot-6 frame to his love of caftans and capes, made him larger than life.
Yet it couldn't be overshadowed by what's described as his encyclopedic knowledge of fashion history and French literature that was unmatched.
"He really understood what had come before and what had laid the groundwork, the reasons why certain trends were emerging, when they did, their significance socially and culturally," said Valerie Steele, museum director of the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Those who knew him said Talley didn't merely study fashion -- he was obsessed with it, a love affair that began during his childhood in Durham, North Carolina.
Talley's fashion career began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, where he had an unpaid apprenticeship with iconic fashion editor Diana Vreeland.
Talley went on to work at Women's Wear Daily and Vogue magazine, ultimately becoming in 1988 the first Black man to be named creative director.
"I said from the front row they didn't have me there because of the way I looked. They had me there because of my knowledge and my smartness," Talley once said.
But his presence as a Black man -- for so long the only one -- on the front row of the biggest fashion shows broke barriers.
And he was known to say what was on his mind.
"He also was very involved in fighting for more diversity on the runway, for more Black models," New York Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis said. "Mostly on the runway it started, and then certainly that became a movement about in every aspect of the industry."
Talley was an inspiration to Emil Welbelkin, while he was growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"Without Andre Leon Talley, I wouldn't have been able to be the editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine and win a National Magazine Award. Edward Enniful would not be able to be the editor-in-chief of British Vogue. Lindsey Peoples Wagner could not be the editor-in-chief of The Cut. Elain Welteroth could not have been at Teen Vogue," Welbelkin said.
The grandson of a sharecropper, Talley ascended to the highest heights, blazing a trail so many have already followed.
Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour said, "All I want to remember today, all I care about, is the brilliant and compassionate man who was a generous and loving friend to me and to my family for many, many years, and who we will all miss so much."
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