If you don't know who Andre Leon Talley is, you're not fashion. Followers of Vogue and her pre-eminence Anna Wintour will recognize Talley, the larger than life (both figuratively and literally) former Vogue editor, and one of the first African American men to break the walls of being a respected voice in haute couture.
Those among us, like me, who drool over Paris runway, and live for Miami Fashion Week will indulge in the fly-on-the-wall documentary of Talley in director Kate Novack's "The Gospel According to Andre."
"I don't live for fashion, I live for beauty and style," he says in the movie's open. And, he does.
Novack captures Talley in the comfort of his White Plains, New York, home, doing such mundane tasks with dramatic style as watching tree cutters take down a large oak while he sits on his porch. It's Novack's way of showing the creature comforts that Talley has amassed over the years. The back story of this long passage of tree commentary is that, in the beginning of the making of the film, Talley didn't want the cameras inside his house, so Novack and her crew were only allowed on the porch.
But, she does gain access, and the moments inside his sanctuary add to vulnerable appeal of "Gospel."
She takes us back, too, to where he developed his sense of style, as a youngster in Durham, N.C., growing up with his grandmother, and watching the style presentations of the neighborhood who showed up in their Sunday best for church services.
Novack pulls some incredible archive of the former era, as Talley talks about his grandmother being a domestic servant, and she and her friends using Sunday to show off their style.
She also finds clips from Truman Capote's "Christmas Memory," where Talley compares his growing up to Capote's short story about life with his grandmother.
There's some wonderful footage of a young Talley attending Paris shows, backstage speaking French to a designer, and priceless video where Andre narrates what's going on inside designer Azzedine Alaia's apartment as a private trunk showing is being presented for a small elite group.
There are A listers aplenty included, from Tom Ford to Marc Jacobs to Wintour herself, who talk about Talley's institutional knowledge. While they open up about him, he's not as forthcoming. He appears as if he is a tough nut to crack. She never really can permeate talk of his personal life, but she was able to capture Talley's personality forged through years of traveling in circles usually off limits to most, and especially to an African American man from the Deep South.
The film veers a bit off course when Novack spends 2016 Election Day with Talley, and she shows his shock and dismay on the outcome. Yet, it does fit into the context of where Talley fits in the world: growing up in the Jim Crow South, then tackling the fashion world. But all of fashion is not lost during the political commentary. On Inauguration Day, Talley's cynicism is everident, yet he does comment on Melania Trump's perfect ensemble: "In Ralph Lauren couture and the gloves and the shoes." Now, that's the Gospel of Talley.
"The Gospel According To Andre" is playing in Miami at O Cinema Wynwood.