For the last four decades, André Leon Talley has sat in the front row at the world’s most important fashion shows. He’s also an apparently unlikely candidate to become a style icon and tastemaker in a world that’s overwhelmingly white and cosmopolitan: Talley is a 6’6” gay Black man from the segregated American South. While no feature-length film could fully capture his big, fascinating life, The Gospel According to André gives us some good glimpses.
Having become familiar with the fashion world at a time when designers and models were becoming celebrities, I’d mentally linked Talley with the excess of the ’90s supermodel scene and the cold snobbery of Vogue editor Anna Wintour. While Talley fits in with that crowd—he calls everyone “darling”—he’s also caring, thoughtful, and generous. This documentary is bedazzled with fashion stars who have nothing but glowing things to say about him, but it also has interviews with friends of Talley’s from high school and college who also have glowing things to say. That the documentary was filmed in the days leading up to, and immediately following, the 2016 presidential election—and that, alongside Talley, we get to relive our stunned disbelief at the result—makes him all the more relatable. (There’s one crushing scene when he talks about styling for Clinton’s inauguration. Remember optimism?)
Earlier this year, I watched RBG, a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who I did not know personally but was sure I loved, and the film proved me right. The Gospel According to André has a similar effect. This person—this hugely famous, untouchably influential, superhuman person—is open and warm, and it makes me like Anna Wintour and Mariah Carey more for the simple fact that they’re his friends. Plus there’s plenty more in the film besides fashion: It’s well worth checking out if you care at all about American history, art, beauty, politics, race, or sexual identity. Or caftans.