The Gospel according to André
Director: Kate Novack
Having seen director Andrew Rossi’s fashion documentary about the annual Met Gala, ‘The First Monday in May’, and the fashion luminaries it showcases of both creative and clotheshorse varieties, I was keen to see this bio-pic of the huge, black man who inspected celebrity Rihanna’s seven foot train as she ascended the red carpet and cooed with delight when he discovered it was lined in baby pink satin!
I didn’t know it then, but André Leon Talley has been a fixture in the fashion scene since first discovering Vogue magazine in his childhood; a childhood he shared with his mother and grandmother in a ‘respectable’ wood framed house in the still partially segregated American South. How André ends up being a front-row fixture in the international fashion world, rubbing padded shoulders and haute air kisses with the likes of Roy Halston, Gianni and Donatella Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, Diana Vreeland, Yves St Lauren, Tom Ford, Grce Coddington, Anna Wintour; along with movie stars, supermodels, super moguls, politicians, celebrities and just about anyone who has ever found themselves on the front cover of a Vanity Fair magazine is the story on which this biopic is based.
In ‘The Gospel according to André’, André emphasises that luxury is how you live and not what you have, constantly referring to his modest childhood where most of the adults in his hard-working outskirts community were home-help to the more affluent white society in which they lived. With aged video footage and photos we see that on Sundays this group of workers and their families flung off their uniforms and donned their stylish Sunday best to attend Church. And they were immaculate! Dapper men in suits and hats; women in gorgeously tailored frocks , hats and gloves; all attending services that included the words of the newly influential young Baptist Minister Martin Luther King Junior.
André later likened the style of his hard-working grandma on these Sunday church outings with the style of the famous fashion icon Diana Vreeland who employed André as a young college graduate to be her assistant in organising a Met Gala. Ms Vreeland detected and reinforced the high standards that Andrés’ grandmother had nurtured in her grandson, and was so impressed by the hardworking young man that she went on to help secure André employment at the famous Interview Magazine, where he became a part of the oh-so-hip Warhol crowd.
Director Kate Novack covers her subject deftly but it becomes apparent that this portly gentleman ‒ who speaks perfect French and can fling out the influences of a current fashion trend much like an art historian can cite the historic, political and social influences of a masterpiece ‒ is also haunted. When reminiscing about the Black Rights protests which occurred in his youth he mutters in disbelief, “… they set dogs onto them" or "…they kicked the women”. He talks about the time when an industry colleague suggested that he must be sleeping with all the industry power players to have secured his success. Audrey recounts this anecdote almost stumbling over the words “as if I were a black …buck!” Less overt, but just as confronting was when he offered a past Vogue editor a photo of an African warrior with a feather headdress to indicate the influence of some knock-out feathered millinery one season, “What have I done to deserve this”, she reportedly shot back in accusation.
‘The Gospel according to André’ comes highly recommended for people who love bigger than life personalities who inject a little joy and magic into the world.