By: V Lynne Smith
“You have to see the world through the kaleidoscope eyes of a child and just be in awe of everything.” – André Leon Talley
André Leon Talley, the seasoned and definitive voice on all that is fashion has been working in the chiffon trenches for more than 4 decades. It’s almost impossible to imagine the fashion world without this larger than life Fashion Icon. So when The Gospel According to André opened at the Landmark Main Theatre in Royal Oak on June 15, for a limited run, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see what went into the making of this curator of style and elegance.
The Gospel According to André directed by Kate Novac, paints an intimate portrait of André’s life from his early days of being raised by his Grandmother, Bennie Frances Davis, in Durham, North Carolina to his rise as editor-at-large for Vogue magazine. The journey is an emotional one as we see how André grew up in the segregated Jim Crow South, which is far removed from his contemporary life as one of the most influential tastemakers and fashion curators of our time. The film explores fascinating almost unexplainable connections between the elegance of André’s beloved grandmother, the Black Church of his youth and his deep and personal friendship with the late Diana Vreeland, with whom he assisted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art after her tenure at Vogue Magazine had ended. Diana Vreeland was very influential during the early days of André’s career. “She taught me the language of clothes. She taught me the language of style”, André says of Mrs. Vreeland’s influence. André tells the story about being so scared of Diana Vreeland, he hid behind a column in the museum after meeting her for the first time. But five minutes later, he was called into her office and told by Diana Vreeland to “stay by [her] side” as she curated the “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design” show.
The movie beautifully weaves together a wealth of archival footage featuring the most dazzling moments in fashion history such as the scene in which we find a young André Talley in the Paris apartment of designer Azzedine Alaia where the beautiful people in the Paris fashion scene have gathered for a fashion show. Imagine a fashion show in the apartment of Azzedine Alaia, OMG!! Speaking fluent French, Talley offers a rich and dramatic commentary while the models turn the cramped quarters into a catwalk like you’ve never seen before. You’ll bear witness to André’s poignant reflections on his life and career which has had some dark moments. It is in the comfort of the Condé Nast archives where André reveals the rumors that deeply hurt and offended him such as being called “Queen Kong” by an employee of Saint Laurent’s, and the assumption that as a black man he must be sleeping his way through Paris in order to have the access he had. André, now 68, tears up as he recalls these moments. There is no one better to tell the story of André Leon Talley than the man himself.
While the film features commentaries from high profile fashion luminaries such as, Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Valentino and others it also features those who knew André on a more personal level. The most surprising of those who shared their thoughts on André’s life was close friend, Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman, who’s also an assistant professor of theology and African American religion at Yale University Divinity School. Dr. Turman is the person who places Talley into the social and cultural context of America and allows us to consider how he has extended the definition of black manhood and makes it plain that race matters in his life. Dr. Turman says, “André completely transgresses the boundaries of black masculinity,” later noting, “He is making such a statement about the value of black life; it is an affirmation that God is going to turn it around.” It was in this moment that I truly recognized the history making life path that was set upon André Leon Talley.
This movie was everything I thought it would be. It was revealing, funny, insightful, moving, inspirational, spiritual and glamorous. I saw glimpses of vulnerability even with all his success there seemed to be something missing in his life. While I absolutely enjoyed this film, the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election was slightly awkward in some ways, but it needed to be acknowledged. In one emotional scene André reaches for another issue of Vogue, ironically, it’s the March 2013 issue, graced by Former First Lady Michelle Obama in hot-pink Jason Wu, and he tearfully looks up and says, “Do you know how much I wish my grandmother had been alive to see this?” The movie left me wanting more insight into André’s life. I wanted to know more about his Grandmother, his Mother, his Father. I wanted more André Leon Talley!! With that being said, André Leon Talley’s life is history in the making and I’m so glad his story is being told. Bravo!!!