By Karen Gordon
As befits the Editor at Large of Vogue magazine, André Leon Talley is the kind of person who’d stand out in any crowd - a tall, elegantly dressed black man with singular style, who speaks in a refined, unplaceable (but a little bit British) accent
But who is he? The Gospel According to Andre aims to fill in some of the blanks.
Talley’s refinement, his impeccable sense of style and love of fashion was matched with a talent that shot him to the top of the world of fashion magazines. But like some great fictional character from another era, there was no sense of where he came from. It’s as if he was always standing there, perhaps with a martini glass in one hand, making smart conversation to the creme de la creme of the fashion world, channeling something that was both from another era, and completely au courant.
As recounted in The Gospel According to Andre, Talley’s life was completely ordinary and completely fantastic at the same time.
Andre Leon Talley came from the American Jim Crow South, where he was raised by his grandmother, the woman who turns out to have been his major influence in just about every way—including his love for style and fashion. She was a cleaner by day. But in the way of the Black community of the era, she was a woman who went out in style, especially when it came to church on Sundays.
Her influence gave her grandson the creative space and the inspiration to follow his instincts. These instincts took him first to University, where he studied French and French literature, and then to Manhattan. Talley immediately seems to have wowed people with his talent for style and fashion. He was taken under the wing of a late great doyenne, the formidable Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. She set him up with his first job at Interview magazine, and from there his career took off in the magazine industry.
But understated seems to be the right word to talk about the man himself. It might be a strange way to talk about a large black man in the fashion industry who has a fondness for wearing caftans. But Talley, the man, comes off very reserved, especially when talking about himself. He keeps himself to himself as they say.
The filmmakers have matched that quality with this documentary. While the movie gives us the story of his rise through the fashion world, and features comments from many, including icons like Anna WIntour and Marc Jacobs, the film isn’t obtrusive as regards his life.
Talley’s accomplishments are many, but like the man himself, the movie doesn’t veer into hyperbole and aggrandizement. In keeping with its subject, it keeps things quietly honest.
The Gospel According To Andre. Directed by Kate Novack. Starring Andre Leon Talley, Anna Wintour, Sean Combs. Opens Friday, May 25 in Toronto and Vancouver.