The Gospel According to André
“Fashion is fleeting. Style remains.” In the opening credits, echoing similar sentiment from the iconic Coco Chanel, booms the voice of another fashion industry pioneer. His name is André Leon Talley and this is his “gospel”. The Gospel According to André is a stylish portrait of the former Vogue Editor-at-Large’s childhood, wardrobe and, more prominently, journey to success.
Designer devotees may recognise Talley as the flamboyant fashionista with the signature kaftan, others perhaps from America’s Next Top Model. However, for these audiences – and those unfamiliar with the “larger than life” icon – the documentary strives to explain why he is so significant. The fact that he is a tall gay black man from the American South and not cut from the same cloth as his industry compatriots is significant. As journalist Tamron Hall summarises, he “transcends boundaries for what is acceptable for black masculinity”. Director Kate Novack has delved through Talley’s journalism and archived catwalk footage alongside home videos and new interviews, though the film’s tame approach doesn’t quite transcend many boundaries here.
There’s no shortage of high profile interviewees, so viewers can expect gushing from household names such as Tom Ford, Anna Wintour and will.i.am. But this is a documentary that is more fascinating when it shuns the glamour in favour of the roots that made its subject. Consequently, commentary from childhood friends is more valuable to this production, exploring African-American identity from Sunday style at church to the political tensions in the American South. The violence on the news is juxtaposed with the escapism of fashion magazines, two tales of media influence on the fashion curator’s early life. Sitting in the front row decades later may seem like a dream, but The Gospel… brings it back to a humbling reality by showing what it took to get there.
Visually minimalistic, the documentary’s fickle structure may cause the audience to lose focus at times but it is returned with any mention of politics – particularly the importance of Michelle Obama on the cover of Vogue and, later, Talley’s silent but all-encompassing reaction to the election of Donald Trump.
Whilst he’s happy to dish out style tips and comment on his own fashion faux pas from the comfort of his front porch, the former editor only seems to let down his guard in the final chapter. The filmmakers rarely pull at the threads of the heavier material (race, love, family), and the result is a piece that’s not quite “gospel”, but still a thoughtful doc biopic for fashion fans nonetheless.
The Gospel According to André is released in select cinemas on 28th September 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Gospel According to André here: