Fash­ion’s Em­peror, An­dré Leon Tal­ley, does have clothes and a new film about his life

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THANKS TO DECADES as a fix­ture at Amer­i­can Vogue, An­dré Leon Tal­ley is among the in­dus­try’s most rec­og­niz­able per­son­al­i­ties, whether he’s ap­pear­ing as him­self in an episode of Em­pire, greet­ing ar­rivals at the an­nual Cos­tume In­sti­tute Met Gala, or pen­ning recher­ché pro­nounce­ments on clothes and as­tute cul­tural com­men­tary.

The in­ti­mate new doc­u­men­tary The Gospel Ac­cord­ing to An­dré (open­ing across Canada in late May) brings us into the pri­vate world of the fash­ion icon. It starts at his White Plains, N. Y., home and jour­neys from the front row of fash­ion weeks back to the North Carolina home­town where he was raised by his grand­mother. Past and present per­sonal his­tory min­gles with opin­ions from Anna Win­tour and Fran Le­bowitz and a who’s who of de­sign­ers from Tom Ford and Diane von Fursten­berg to Valentino.

“Things just hap­pened in­stinc­tively,” the style maven, now 68, re­calls. “I was so ex­cited to be in the world and to em­brace that world. And I was very lucky to have that world of peo­ple em­brace me.” Men­tored by Diana Vree­land, he rose from WWD re­porter to Paris bureau chief at a time when Karl Lager­feld, Hal­ston and Yves Saint Lau­rent reigned supreme and soon he was at Vogue; he’s since writ­ten books on Os­car de la Renta, the lit­tle black dress and his own af­fect­ing mem­oir A.L.T.

As friend Whoopi Gold­berg ob­serves, Tal­ley is larg­erthan-life in ev­ery pos­si­ble way – a tremen­dous ed­u­ca­tion, a vol­u­ble per­son­al­ity and not in­con­sid­er­able stature as a tow­er­ing 6 foot 6 gay black man. The doc­u­men­tary digs fur­ther to of­fer if not a com­pletely raw por­trait, then at least many glimpses be­hind the per­sona. We fol­low him to his Durham, N.C., home­town, to a health re­sort where he strug­gles with weight and to the ar­chives of his ca­reer mem­o­ra­bilia.

Af­ter years of re­buff­ing other of­fers and doc­u­men­tary project re­quests, The Gospel Ac­cord­ing to An­dré di­rec­tor Kate No­vack was suc­cess­ful where oth­ers failed be­cause of her pre­vi­ous foray The First Mon­day in May about the mak­ing of the Cos­tume In­sti­tute’s an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion and gala (No­vack co-wrote and her hus­band An­drew Rossi di­rected). Tal­ley not only ap­pears in that doc­u­men­tary (which he loved) but be­came its am­bas­sador, at­tend­ing screen­ings and film fes­ti­vals on be­half of Vogue. “Kate would sit in the back of those Q&As and see how peo­ple re­sponded,” he says, and her un­ob­tru­sive pres­ence won him over as much as her re­search and prepa­ra­tion did.

Be­sides The First Mon­day in May, No­vack and Rossi are known for doc­u­men­taries about famed restau­rant Le Cirque, and Page One: In­side the New York Times. If they have one thing in com­mon, it’s that they’re all about the in­ner work­ings of sto­ried in­sti­tu­tions. Does Tal­ley see him­self as an in­sti­tu­tion?

“I see my­self not as an in­sti­tu­tion, I see my­self as a brand,” he says. “But more than that I see my­self as a gate­keeper of the his­tor­i­cal mo­ments of great style in the golden days of fash­ion, high fash­ion, haute cou­ture. That is what I con­sider my­self now – a cu­ra­tor of those mo­ments.” —Nathalie Atkinson

At the MET’s Alexan­der McQueen: Sav­age Beauty Cos­tume In­sti­tute Gala in 2011. In­set: With Vogue edi­tor Anna Win­tour in 1996

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