Style and grace

Kate Novack and Andrew Rossi on The Gospel According To André

by Anne-Katrin Titze

At Magnolia Pictures, ‪The Gospel According To André‬ director Kate Novack with Andrew Rossi on André Leon Talley: "He is a great storyteller."
At Magnolia Pictures, ‪The Gospel According To André‬ director Kate Novack with Andrew Rossi on André Leon Talley: "He is a great storyteller." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Kate Novack's all embracing The Gospel According To André, produced by Andrew Rossi (The First Monday In May, Bronx Gothic) and Josh Braun, features interviews with Tom Ford, Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Valentino Garavani, will.i.am, and Manolo Blahnik on the bigger than life André Leon Talley. Fran Lebowitz has more than one funny anecdote on Talley when he worked at Andy Warhol's Interview magazine.

On André Leon Talley at his house: "He is this quiet, serene, gentle soul and that was really surprising."
On André Leon Talley at his house: "He is this quiet, serene, gentle soul and that was really surprising." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The man who invented himself with style and grace, talks about the great importance of Diana Vreeland, states "I loved seeing Pat Cleveland in Vogue", visits the Condé Nast archives with Tonne Goodman, comments in a live blog with Maureen Dowd of The New York Times on the Trump inauguration, and is seen in archival footage interviewing Azzedine Alaïa in French. On her farm on Long Island, Isabella Rossellini introduces André to her two gigantic kunekune pigs, Boris and Pepe, which provokes him to ask a probing anatomical question.

Along the way André Leon Talley boldly confronted obstacles from his childhood when he was living with his beloved grandmother in the Jim Crow South of Durham, North Carolina to the Paris fashion scene where he became bureau chief for Women's Wear Daily in the Seventies.

Anne-Katrin Titze: When André Leon Talley tells the Karl Lagerfeld story, at first we think, oh, where is this heading, when André says "and then he asked me into the bedroom." And then it turns into a Great Gatsby moment. Lagerfeld was pulling out silk shirts, like Gatsby does. It's never the expected what is coming out of his mouth. Were you sometimes thrown off and surprised?

Kate Novack: Absolutely. And he is a great storyteller. It's almost if you were scripting someone's life, that would be this important moment where he steps into that inner sanctum of Karl Lagerfeld and as he says - I had these people on my walls and then I knew them.

‪Andrew Rossi‬ on André Leon Talley as ‪Nick Carraway‬ to Anna Wintour: "S‪itting alongside Anna‬ ‪at the shows and of course being great ‬friends with her."
‪Andrew Rossi‬ on André Leon Talley as ‪Nick Carraway‬ to Anna Wintour: "S‪itting alongside Anna‬ ‪at the shows and of course being great ‬friends with her." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

There was a lot that was unexpected. When you're at his house his demeanor was different. He is this quiet, serene, gentle soul and that was really surprising. Didn't you think [to Andrew Rossi]?

Andrew Rossi: Absolutely. It's so interesting that you mention also Gatsby. What's the name of the character? It's told from the perspective of?

KN: Nick.

AKT: Carraway.

AR: I think that's the thing about André, that he's always been the Boswell or the Nick Carraway to others be it designers or figures, sitting alongside Anna [Wintour] at the shows and of course being great friends with her.

But the wonderful thing about this film that I think Kate has done is to make him the protagonist and the central figure. And to go to his home takes you behind the public image and gives you this insight into who is this man who has been telling the story of everybody else.

AKT: You had a wonderful moment with him in First Monday In May.

KN: Oh I love that scene.

‪Kate Novack‬ on André Leon Talley: "‪I think is an American success story with all of the difficulties that he faced along the way.‬"
‪Kate Novack‬ on André Leon Talley: "‪I think is an American success story with all of the difficulties that he faced along the way.‬"

AKT: That was already a starting point? The kernel?

KN: Yeah. It would not have happened without Andrew. That's how we got the access. I think then he trusted us and I think he knew we were coming from a sincere place that he was comfortable with.

AKT: Are you excited about the new show coming up at the Costume Institute? Andrew Bolton's church show, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination [at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Met Cloisters]?

AR: Yes, I'm excited to see that.

AKT: The episode in your film with Fran Lebowitz talking about Interview magazine is so funny. She says André was one of the few people actually doing work when he was a receptionist there. And how her mother referred to him as "your friend, the African prince".

KN: I think it's again this idea of André combining things that don't make sense to people. A black man in a turban? He must be an African prince. But actually it's André Leon Talley taking references and creating himself as he wants to.

AKT: Capes - Dracula, Lulu, Tolstoi. Veils - Sissi of Austria ...

‪The Gospel According To André‬ poster
‪The Gospel According To André‬ poster Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

KN: Julia Child, Barbra Streisand.

AKT: Diana Vreeland, of course. Timing-wise for your film, you were shooting around the 2016 elections, it makes for a great snapshot of the time. There's before and after.

KN: André's story, I think, is an American success story with all of the difficulties that he faced along the way. So we were filming that at the same time as we were kind of watching this car crash happen in slow motion in our country. I know this isn't how everyone feels, but I just think it became a really important foil in a way to his story.

AKT: You have that wonderful moment with Maureen Dowd commenting on the Trump inauguration. "Therefore I will have to further exile myself to a style gulag," he says because he comments positively on Melania's dress. And then Dowd says: "Are you using Russian metaphors intentionally?" Wow! You couldn't have scripted it better!

KN: The crowd last night [at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere] went nuts at that line. It was very nice to hear.

AKT: Did he give you style advice?

KN: I usually wear kind of jeans and usually a white shirt and he would tell me that I dress like Peter Pan. And I was like, you know, actually he is right.

AR: Sandy Duncan.

KN: And then this morning in a real nice way he was like, "your hair looks good straight but I like it with a little more curl."

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Met Cloisters
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Met Cloisters

AKT: And you?

AR: Me? I don't think he ever commented on the way that I looked.

AKT: That means either it's all good or …

AR: Right, that I'm so far gone that he can't …

KN: No, no he, like, loves him. He does.

The Gospel According to André opens in the US on May 25.

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Met Cloisters will open to the public on May 10 and run to October 8, 2018

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