icon Andre Leon Talley, here in a November 2014
file image, is the subject of a new documentary,
"The Gospel According to Andre."
the morning Edward Enninful was announced as the new
editor-in-chief of British Vogue in April 2017, he
received an email applauding his historic appointment as
the first black man to lead such a prestigious fashion
You deserve it," it read, written by industry icon
Andre Leon Talley.
replied: "You paved the way."
four words are what Talley calls his "proudest
moment" in a career spanning nearly 45 years of
reporting, editorializing and otherwise influencing the
sartorial zeitgeist of generations past, present and
still to come. After all, for so long he’s been one of
the only black voices in fashion with the kind of pull
and sway that demands front row seats at the hottest
fashion shows worldwide.
took all these years to get here, for a black man, not a
black woman (to achieve this)," he said about
Enninful’s appointment. "This is a breakthrough.
This is seismic. This is defining fashion. He will go
down in history. A legacy."
will be 70 in October, and I am proud to say I have
lived to see the first black man named an
editor-in-chief of Vogue."
a similar role, he admits, he once thought might have
come his way, "the job of an editorship somewhere
in Conde Nast." That glass ceiling however, was not
his to break. Though he surely put some cracks in it.
this is the greatest takeaway from Kate Novack’s
documentary on Talley, titled "The Gospel According
to Andre," which reached theaters April 27 — for
all of fashion’s newly found interest in black and
brown bodies and aesthetics on runways and in campaigns,
Andre Leon Talley was fighting the good fight long
have fought quietly, not with placards," he said.
"I fight quietly to influence the culture. This
(film) is a blessing that (Novack) had the vision to
create this, which is, for me, a summation of who I am
after all these decades out there fighting."
long-overdue meditation on the man behind the custom
caftans and capes, the film charts his rise from modest
beginnings in Durham, N.C., where he first discovered
fashion through the pages of Vogue to being a
receptionist-turned-writer for Andy Warhol’s recently
shuttered Interview magazine to, now, a former
editor-at-large of Vogue who sits atop the steps at the
Met Gala commenting on its attendees’ garb.
interviews from the likes of Vogue head honcho Anna
Wintour, fashion designers Tom Ford, Diane von
Furstenberg and Norma Kamali and celebs Whoopi Goldberg
and will.i.am, "The Gospel According to Andre"
pulls back the curtain on a cultural icon who often
doesn’t get his due.
was Novack’s intention, she said, highlighting that
Talley has been in countless fashion documentaries about
other people, brands and industry ongoings.
always steals the show, but always talking about
everyone else as the supporting character," she
said. "And we know the fashion part of him, but I
wanted to tell the story that we haven’t seen a
million times — (about the) other part of him that is
into her first meeting with Talley, Novack, who has also
produced documentaries including "Page One: Inside
the New York Times," said she was "nervous
because he’s this big character and because he’s
this big persona." But after reading his
autobiography, "A.L.T.: A Memoir," she
discovered his favorite church hymn was "Precious
Memories." That prompted her to think of
"memory as a sustaining force" that she wished
to bring to the picture. Talley was very interested from
the beginning, she said.
wanted to go behind his childhood church and show me
where he was baptized, and he talked about how his life
was very much like Truman Capote’s ‘A Christmas
Memory,’ " she said. "It wasn’t about ‘Let
me show you my closet of 350 Hermes boxes’ — which
he does also have and is totally fabulous."
result, of following Talley for over a year as the 2016
election was taking place, is a picture that earnestly
portrays a man — billowing with justified aplomb —
who succeeded in spite of the odds against him as
someone black and from the American South whose size is
deemed alarming, and gesticulations and mannerisms
never thought I would have the career and life that I
had; I never had that kind of ambition or drive,"
said Talley during an interview at the Chateau Marmont
on the Los Angeles stop of his press tour.
life has been because people saw something in me. I didn’t
lobby or stand in line or scheme to get to these places.
They all came to me because of my talent and aura and
persona and knowledge.
has come to me, somehow or another, because of who I am.
And hopefully I am someone people respond to for a sense
of knowledge and knowing the history of fashion, style
that road hasn’t been a crystal stair. It’s had
tacks and splinters and torn-up boards of racism that
have tried to strip him bare.
when a woman who worked at Yves Saint Laurent — not
named in the film but revealed in the recently released
book "Loulou & Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou
de La Falaise and the House of Saint Laurent" —
once referred to him as "bitchy, calling me Queen
Kong," he said.
when a former editor who remains unnamed accused Talley
of "being in every designer’s bed in Paris,"
insinuating that the only way a black man could be so
successful was by performing sexual favors.
have never slept with any designer, living, dead,
straight, gay or otherwise," he said. "I got
here because I had knowledge. As Judge Judy always says,
‘They don’t keep me here for my looks.’ They keep
me here for my power. Because knowledge is power.
did I overcome that kind of racism? I internalized and
struggled with it … I ignored it at the time … I had
family and faith and (the late former Vogue editor) Mrs.
(Diana) Vreeland and (the late former Women’s Wear
Daily editor-in-chief) Mr. (John) Fairchild.
been through pluck, luck and survival skills."
days, long after climbing, reaching landings and turning
corners in the industry, Talley is inspired by the likes
of Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand, Beyoncé,
Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West. He adds Jaden and
Willow Smith to that list and then pauses when
mentioning perhaps the biggest breakout star of the last
year, actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish.
going to have an extraordinary career," he said,
revealing later that she was his second best dressed at
the Met Gala — after Kate Moss, ahead of Rihanna.
"She slept in a car, but she’s going way up high.
She has such a great sense of humor and great style and
a great personality. Things will come to her."
asked what he wants his legacy, of which this film is
now part, to be when it’s all said and done, Talley
helped others to see. He helped others to live."