Movie Night: The Gospel According to André
“He was so many things he wasn’t supposed to be,” Whoopi Goldberg says at one point about André Leon Talley. For if you were a black man growing up in North Carolina during the 1950s and 1960s, when racial segregation was still prevalent, you’d better not be conspicuous or a homosexual. Talley was both – and became a “giant” (he measures nearly two metres) of the fashion scene. Documentary filmmaker Kate Novack (who has also produced a number of documentaries on New York gourmets) shows just how extraordinary his person and his story are: Growing up with his grandmother in modest circumstances, the tall André was attracted to style, glamour and fashion from early on. His weekly highlights back then were Sunday church visits when all the women in the parish dressed up, as well as secretly leafing through fashion magazines displayed in the library.
Harassed by other adolescents and abused as “Queen Kong” – he still tears up at the thought today – Talley realised early on that his destiny lay elsewhere: in New York. He soon worked for Andy Warhol’s magazine Interview and was a regular guest at the legendary Studio 54 (perhaps the only one who did not come for the sex and the drugs but to dance, as New York intellectual legacy Fran Lebowitz once noted). A turning point in his career, however, was when Diana Vreeland, then a consultant of the Metropolitan Museum, took him under her wing. Even today, André, who is on a first-name basis with just about everyone, still reverently calls her “Mrs. Vreeland”.
Mrs. Vreeland’s tutelage paid off. When Anna Wintour took over Vogue in 1983, it was Talley’s enormous knowledge of fashion history she relied on. The unorthodox dream couple became the heart of US Vogue for three decades – and thus set trends for the entire industry. In the film the otherwise aloof Wintour speaks with warmth and respect of Talley and she is not the only one: Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Diane von Fuerstenberg and Manholo Blanik join her as devoted fans of Talley. In other words, the crème de la crème of the fashion scene. But old friends and confidants from Durham also have their say. Watching Talley’s journey as a viewer, and witnessing how the young Talley, who once secretly flipped through Vogue magazine, ends up becoming one of its greatest editors, you truly believe him when he says, “I don’t live for fashion, I live for beauty and style”.