How André Leon Talley became a fashion kingmaker

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Gospel According to André
RPL Film Theatre

July 20–22

Former Vogue editor-at-large and cape enthusiast André Leon Talley forged an unlikely path to authority. Talley was born in North Carolina when the Jim Crow laws were still enforced. He was bullied across the board and generally alienated. But he found shelter in the pages of Vogue (very much available in Durham’s public library), and through his grandmother’s support.

A documentary thrives and fails on the subject’s appeal and The Gospel According to André has appeal in spades. Talley is self-aware and interesting, and his involvement with the fashion world over the last 40 years gives him material for years. The film gives us a clear picture of how André’s upbringing and education shaped the figure he would become, for better and for worse.

In theory, the idea of an imposing, profoundly religious, presumably celibate black man becoming a fixture of the ’80’s New York fashion scene sounds implausible. Yet Talley was welcomed by Andy Warhol (who gave him a job at Interview magazine) along with every major designer of the decade. Thanks to his experiences and fine-tuned empathy, André was able to put fashion in a cultural context —an exceedingly rare skill among Manhattan elites. He still had to deal with unsavory stereotypes, though.

While the film touches on controversial topics like André’s weight, sexuality, and his departure from Vogue, director Kate Novack chooses not to press the point, depriving the film of a deeper layer. The use of the seizure-inducing 2016 election week as framing device is clever, but adds little.

The Gospel According to André is a pleasant experience that won’t stay with you for long.