Film Review: Talley’s Tale Gets Told

André Leon Talley

“The Gospel According to André” is a documentary depicting the life of “fashion giant” André Leon Talley who grew up poor in a segregated North Carolina and rose to the top against all the odds. I was hoping for a light “Devil Wears Prada” type of Saturday night flick, but unfortunately encountered a more serious nearly two-hour movie about the severe discrimination 68-year-old Talley experienced in his youth which carried over during his years working as a fashion editor at Vogue.

“Bigger than life”

The term “larger than life” was used throughout the documentary – a phrase that is simultaneously flattering and insulting: a manifestation of the fashion world’s ambivalence towards him. The 6-foot-6 Talley tearfully recounts a Saint Laurent staffer repeatedly referring to him as “Queen Kong” behind his back. Despite his significant tenure at “Vogue” few fashion luminaries are interviewed in the film and the ones who are given little understanding as to what makes André great. Marc Jacobs, who insists on smoking during his two-minute appearance, vaguely comments about André living in a “magic bubble” and how he is a larger than life operatic figure – yes Marc we knew that already. Similarly, Tom Ford speaking in muted tones as if being interviewed by the CIA is chock full of nothing to say.

Anna Wintour & André Leon Talley

Ralph Rucci whose knowledge and affinity for Talley is evident appears without any introduction as to who Rucci is or his importance as a designer. Anna Wintour who makes a later cameo with some unforgiving close-ups acknowledges that Talley’s vast knowledge of fashion history supersedes her own; yet gives very little insight into what makes André the great fashion expert. It is evident these two have an ambivalent relationship as André recently revealed in a “New York Times” interview that Wintour often shuns him. Talley complained to the “Times” that the fashion world is unforgiving and cruel, yet the film fails even to show a hint of it in this non-controversial movie.

André at the Costume Institute Gala

This film leaves so many questions unanswered. For one why does Talley have a thicker English accent than Madonna? Moreover, he claims he has never fallen in love – for a gay man with unprecedented access to good-looking, wealthy gay men why couldn’t he find one to share his ubiquitous capes with? Talley’s magnificent style was way ahead of the times in men’s fashion wearing capes, caftans and embroidered coats way before they were fashionable. How did a black child raised by his grandmother, who was a maid at Duke University, achieve this confidence? We are never made aware as to what makes Talley tick and what were his actual contributions to “Vogue.” He explains what an indelible impact mentor Diana Vreeland had when she plucked him from obscurity to assist her in the 1970’s with the Costume Institute exhibition and help him land a job with Andy Warhol at “Interview” magazine. This film fails to even touch upon what precipitated his 2013 departure from “Vogue.”

André at home
Photo New York Times

The conclusion of the movie shows André in a near stupor after learning Donald Trump has won the Presidency – yet little more is said. If you are going to document your life for the big screen, you better have some strong opinions or why bother? When he does ask for access to the Vogue archives material of little interest is shown. In Talley’s recent jaw-dropping interview with the “New York Times,” he admits he is broke and lashes out at legends Miuccia Prada and Karl Lagerfeld for barely acknowledging him since his exit from “Vogue.” None of this conflict – the stuff movies are made for-is depicted in the film. He touches perfunctorily on his battle with weight gain as we see him struggling to walk on numerous occasions as he checks into Duke University Medical Center.

The brilliant André has a prominent place in fashion history – however, this movie fails time and time again to explain why.

– Lieba Nesis

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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