The auditorium at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City was packed to the rafters for the April premiere of The Gospel According to André at the Tribeca Film Festival. All of us in attendance were anxious to take a peek behind the fabulous facade of one of the biggest personas in fashion, André Leon Talley.
The documentary, debuting in theaters today, Friday, May 25, is hilarious, historical and, at rare intervals, humble, though for the most part, the legendary facade remained intact. But perhaps the exercise of opening his life to the cameras has also cracked something open in Talley. In an interview published Thursday in the New York Times, he was even more revealing about the fickle business of fashion that he helped build but that has increasingly pushed him to its fringes.
“Fashion does not take care of its people,” he said. “No one is going to take care of me, except I am going to take care of myself.”
Speaking with the Times, Talley is surprisingly candid about being broke, despite a career spent on the mastheads of some of the most powerful publications in the industry (most notably Vogue, where he is still contributing editor). He also speaks on the lost loyalty of once-close friends like Karl Lagerfeld and Miuccia Prada, and even Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, whom Talley has called one of his greatest allies, yet of whom he also said:
Most days, she treats me like family. I know she cares for me deeply. But other days, she treats me like the proverbial black sheep, that family member who is left out, shut out, to be avoided.
Talley, often the rare black face in the room during his decades spent in the upper echelons of the fashion industry, also spoke openly about the pervasive lack of black decision-makers:
Where are the black people? I look around everywhere and say, “Where are the black people?” I think fashion tries to skirt the issue and finds convenient ways to spin it. There are examples of evolution, but they are few and far between. The biggest leap of faith was Edward Enninful becoming editor of British Vogue—that was an extraordinary thing. Virgil Abloh getting Louis Vuitton men’s wear.
These are revelations that, to some, may feel overdue from the legendary editor, who, according to Wintour and others, often remained reticent on issues of race during the peak of his career (though he is known to be a longtime champion of black designers and models). But it can never be said that Talley has ever been in denial about his own identity as a black gay man or ever lost touch with his roots in the black church or community of his native Durham, N.C. If anything, Talley’s trajectory is a reminder of how tenuous it is to be the “first” or “only.”
“I wish fashion was an easier zone to navigate through,” he told the Times. “It’s arctic: You have to get through so many icebergs. It’s very cruel, yet it can also be very exciting.”
As for what the future holds for the now 70-year-old Talley, despite having his legacy cemented by the release of The Gospel According to André, he seems to be facing the future with a sense of pragmatic foreboding: “I live alone. I’ll die alone, I climbed up alone, and I’ll go down alone.”