‘Unfettered Glamour’: The Legendary Career of André Leon Talley

NEW YORK, NY - 1979: Diana Ross and Andre Leon Talley dancing at Studio 54, c 1979 in New York City. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)

New York Times fashion director and chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman profiles former Vogue creative director André Leon Talley upon the launch of “The Gospel According to André,” a feature-length documentary on Talley’s life. The film includes interviews with friends and former colleagues of Talley, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Fran Lebowitz, and Anna Wintour, and traces his love for fashion back to his early days in segregated Durham, North Carolina. It was the number one limited-release movie in box offices sales last weekend, according to Page Six.

For much of his career, Talley was the only black male editor of a top tier fashion publication. Goldberg says in the film that he was “so many things he wasn’t supposed to be,” but for most of the years of his rise, Talley did not publicly acknowledge the isolation and emotional strife that came with his influence. In a 1994 story for the New Yorker, Hilton Als described Talley, hauntingly, as “the only one.” Friedman’s profile illuminates the costs Talley paid for breaking ground.

When he tells this story in public, he often defangs it by rolling his eyes and pursing his lips, and then appending a joke about wanting to be in designers’ beds without the actual designer to see what kind of fancy sheets they had. But when he tells it in private, he doesn’t add the comic flourishes, and the muscle between his eyebrows contracts in an involuntary spasm.

For all the talk lately about the need for diversity on fashion runways, there has been much less about the fact that its executives and designers and editors in chief have been, and are still, largely white.

“Where are the black people?” Mr. Talley said. “I look around everywhere and say, ‘Where are the black people?’ I think fashion tries to skirt the issue and finds convenient ways to spin it. There are examples of evolution, but they are few and far between. The biggest leap of faith was Edward Enninful becoming editor of British Vogue — that was an extraordinary thing. Virgil Abloh getting Louis Vuitton men’s wear.”

Still, as far as progress made in the more than three decades Mr. Talley has been letting the insults bounce off his caftans, it doesn’t seem like very much. “As the world turns, it does not turn very fast,” he said.

He is hoping the film speeds it up. Mr. Enninful, for one, thinks it will. “It will mean a lot to a new generation to see that there was this man who grew up in the South and through all obstacles made it, because it will give young black kids hope and the aspiration to be in this industry,” he said.

Mr. Talley is also hoping it provides a platform to vault him to the next stage in his life.

“I could see myself being an Oscar Wilde and going on the road and sitting on stage and talking,” he said. When he said this, he was having lunch at Majorelle, a French restaurant on the Upper East Side that he loves because of its flower arrangements, its pistachio souffle and because it shares a name with Yves Saint Laurent’s garden in Marrakesh.

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