Dir: Kate Novacek | US Biopic | 95′
Kate Novacek cuts André Leon Talley rather too much slack in this glowing portrait of the first black fashion editor of Vogue who rose from a modest upbringing in North Carolina to become the driving force of changing the face of fashion in Paris and New York, during the Jim Crowe era. The Gospel According André is very much that, with Talley projecting his own self image and Novacek rarely getting behind it.
Born in 1948, Talley’s grandmother was the abiding influence in his upbringing. Early interest in fashion came during Sunday’s church meetings, “the only time when Afro-American identity was re-affirmed. It was like a fashion show”, says Talley, who was particularly impressed by the hats worn by the female congregation members. An MA at Brown on a scholarship, led Talley to New York in 1974, where he was taken under the wing of Diana Vreeland, then editor of Vogue. He became a regular at Andy Warhol’s Studio 54 “the only person not interested in sex or drugs”. But Talley’s love life is a blank: he is quoted “the work left him little time for a partner”, and he chuckles when recalling how Vreeland was suspicious “that he’d slept with a white woman”. “If only she’d known”. This comment regarding his sexual orientation is a leading one.
Nearly two metres tall, Talley stands out in any crowd, and his love of capes and kaftans gives him an air of an African prince. His was a meteoric rise through the ranks from Women’s Wear Daily and W between 1975 and 1980, he then became Fashion’s News director at ‘Vogue’ between 1983 and 1987 and its creative Director until 1995 when he moved to Paris for Vogue and W meeting Carl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent. In 1998 he became Vogue’s Editor-at-large until 2013.
‘Operatic best’ describes his taste. He loved Visconti and one of his film-subjects, Sissi but also experimented with Gone With the Wind creating the first black Scarlet O’Hara. He wrote at length about Sandy Crawford’s appearance in a black veil, reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy. We hear a lot from other celebrities like Woopi Goldberg, Diane von Furstenberg and Anna Wintour, but somehow Talley is absent from this portrait – apart from what he wants to give away. Only once does Novack find an emotional moment, when Talley talks about being called “Queen Kong” in Paris; that seems to imply he could only make so many connections in the fashion world by sleeping around. Somehow a true trail-blazer like him deserves a more demanding approach, even if it means re-questioning him. And that would be another film. AS
Now on MUBI