Fashion Guru and former Editor-at-Large for American Vogue André Leon Talley puts a whole new meaning on the expression ‘larger-than-life’. In this very affectionate profile on him, filmmaker Kate Novack simply points her cameras at Talley and lets him perform. This charismatic African-American tastemaker loves the sound of his own voice as he gives his own highly edited version of his own life intermingled with often outrageous statements on his take on every aspect of style. He puts on a wonderful show, and the only downside is that when he throws in asides like the fact he has never had a romantic relationship, sadly Novak never pursues him for any further details.
For one so grand, it is surprising that Talley had such a very modest upbringing in the Deep South raised by his grandmother. It wasn’t until he moved to NY and talked himself into a job answering the phones at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine offices that Talley started to get a taste for the high life. He certainly created many precedents like being the first African/American reporter covering the Paris Runway Shows for Women’s Wear Daily, but it was his stint assisting Diana Vreeland that had the most impact on the young Talley. He was so close to her that there were stories circulating that they were actually sleeping together. Even though it was a preposterous rumour, Talley enjoys repeating it as it links him very close to one of Fashion’s most legendary figures.
In fact Novack recruited a whole coterie of famous designers and style makers including Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Manolo Blahnik, Diana von Furstenberg who were eager to testify to Talley’s remarkable talent. It was, however, the surprising testimony from the normally icy Anna Wintour that was the most fascinating. She generously credited Talley with educating her with his extensive knowledge of fashion history when she first sat in the Editors chair at Vogue.
All the different talking heads did one great service for Talley for those of us who only know the seeming superficiality of the man from seeing him extravagantly pontificate on fashion occasionally on TV, as they left no doubt that he really is the genuine article. His passion for his subject makes him act like a prima donna who has swallowed an obscure edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and his pronouncements are handed down as if he is the Pope of Fashion. And with his grandiose flamboyant multi-layered outfits, he even dresses like one.
Novak also filmed Talley with people from his past including a childhood friend who he, very tongue in cheek, criticised for his unhealthy eating habits! The friend quipped back about Talley’s fondness for caviar, and the response was a wonderful example of Talley’s constant name -dropping with ‘I only eat it at Valentino’s house!’
As Anna Wintour’s powerful reign as Queen Bee at Vogue is almost, and as the recent Met Gala Ball showed high end fashion has been hijacked by desperate publicity seeking minor celebrities, Talley’s role as an influencer is being whittled away. There will probably never be anyone in the future to follow in his very large footsteps which is a great shame