He’s one of the most famous names in fashion and yet he’s not a designer or couturier. He’s André Leon Talley, former “Vogue” editor and contributor and fixture in the front row of every important fashion show worldwide.
The intellectually and physically imposing Talley—he’s an endlessly quotable six-and-a-half-foot man—is the subject of “The Gospel According To Andre,” a new documentary from Kate Novack that goes beneath the trademarked capes and bling to reveal the man, not the public figure.
Born and raised in the segregated Jim Crow South Talley grew up far from the runways of Paris. His introduction to fashion came in the form of the elaborate hats his grandmother’s friends wore to church. As a young, self-conscious man he spent hours at the library reading “Vogue” before attending Brown University and ultimately moving to New York City to chase his dream of working in the fashion industry. Jobs working for style maven Diana Vreeland and at Andy Warhol’s “Interview” magazine placed him at the centre of hip NYC Studio 54 culture. By 1983 he was working at “Vogue,” the job that cemented his legacy as a fashion icon. Helping to tell the tale are Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Bethann Hardison, Valentino, and Manolo Blahnik.
Although “Gospel” veers into hagiography—will.i.am. even goes so far as to call Talley “the Nelson Mandela of couture.”—it also provides an intimate look at the painful racism and body shaming the heavy set gay man was subjected to. In one tearful moment he describes being called “Queen Kong” by colleagues. It is in these moments the film is elevated from a timeline of an interesting man’s life to a portrait of a pioneer who blazed a trail for him and those who followed. Talley’s influence on fashion culture as an editor and commentator is inestimable and “Gospel,” while not terribly stylishly made, is a fitting tribute to a man who says, “I don’t live for fashion, I live for beauty and style.”