After a poor childhood, he became editor-at-large at US Vogue. He talks about racism in fashion, why he stopped reading British Vogue, his new documentary and dressing Melania Trump
When Andr Leon Talley was fresh out of college, he went to intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was the early 1970s and Diana Vreeland, the legendary former editor at Vogue, was consulting at the Costume Institute and put him to work. I was very tall and skinny, says Talley. I had very good clothes, although very few clothes. I followed the trends, the world of Rive Gauche. He was an anomaly in the white, upperclass world of high fashion an African American from a poor background in Durham, North Carolina but he had something Vreeland and later Anna Wintour would recognise: a belief amounting to fervour in his power to become the selfmade person I am through the mythology of Vogue.
Talley, who turns 70 this year, sits in the sun room of an exclusive restaurant on Manhattans Upper East Side, wearing one of his trademark kaftans and breaking off every few moments to converse with the waiter in French. If he is little known beyond the fashion world, that may be about to change with the opening of a documentary next month that tells the story of Talleys extraordinary trajectory from grandson of sharecroppers to editor-at-large at Vogue; a man who, unlike so many of the pinched and unhappy looking women who guard the gates of high fashion, seems to embody the unfulfilled promise of that world: pure joy.
The documentary, The Gospel According to Andr, directed by Kate Novack, is a funny and often moving account not only of the fashion industry as seen through Talleys eyes, but of a much broader American cultural history, reaching back from his days at Vogue to the Jim Crow south in which Talley grew up, and 70s bohemian New York, where he found a home in his early 20s. While Talleys personal style the capes, the kaftans, the exaggerated forms of speech redefined the boundaries of black masculinity, his overall bearing insisted on something the dominant culture denied: that he be permitted to take up more space. You can be aristocratic without having been born into an aristocratic family, he says to the camera at one point, and the film is a study of both the scope and limitations of this kind of self-realisation.