Photo: BEImages/Matt Baron.
For someone with such a prolific collection of Louis Vuitton luggage, André Leon Talley has managed to go through life with almost no baggage. It's pretty incredible to hear him speak with such a genuinely sunny disposition about everything that has happened in his life, from working with Diana Vreeland (whose "writing about boots is real literature," he croons) and Andy Warhol to his time with Anna Wintour and his newest stint at Numéro Russia.
Sure, he has the occasional criticism. When asked about that infamous African Queen spread, he's quick to note, "That was Paris! I would never allow such a thing. Naomi was my first cover." But, even his stronger points are as convincing and digestible as the chocolate cake he says he's avoided with an ironclad will since July.
This week, former CFDA director, fashion consultant, and insider extraordinaire Fern Mallis conducted an amazing interview with the illustrious editor-at-large at the 92Y for her Fashion Icons series, and it was mostly a trip down memory lane. Watching ALT emerge from backstage in a flowing Ralph Rucci caftan is bound to make anyone beside themselves with applause, and the crowd happily obliged. And, while a true ALT aficionado probably wouldn't have been surprised by anything Mallis unearthed, there were more than a few gems in there.
For example, Talley is — like, apparently, everyone at Paris Fashion Week — quite taken with Kim Kardashian. "If you'd said 'Kim Kardashian' to me two months ago, I would've said noooo!" he explains. But, after seeing her around at several high-profile events, not to mention under the wing of Carine Roitfeld, he seems to be following suit and warming up to the reality star: "Suddenly you realize this is a nice human being. She's absolutely adorable when you meet her."
And, then there's his career advice, which tiptoes the line between hand-wringing millennial-phobia and statements you can't help but agree with. How does he recognize an up-and-coming editor in the fashion industry, you ask? "If they have a fabulous upbringing and it comes through in the way they approach their work," he says. "If they approach with manners and courtesy and politeness. Young people today act as if they've already arrived when they haven't." It's quite a far cry from how he behaved back in his youth, when he wouldn't speak to Ms. Vreeland unless spoken to. Clearly, today, he's on the receiving end of a fair amount of brown-nosing and lack thereof, and says he "can't stand how young people think they know everything just because they're in your presence." Well, to be fair, his presence is rather intoxicating.
On the subjects of racism and exclusion in fashion, you might expect one of fashion's most prominent black figures to have an entire treatise prepared. However, he is quick and direct when he says that the best way to deal is to "take a stand and make it known; go to the press in an intelligent way. You have to make people aware that they may not be racist, but they're doing racist acts." For his part, Talley seems unscathed by such prejudice growing up in Durham, North Carolina, or in New York and Paris in the decades that followed. Save a few incidences, it seems his charms melted the hearts of everyone in his path, and his success has been largely unhindered.
The quote of the night, though? "If Marc Jacobs can wear a lace dress, I can wear caftans or anything I want, any time of the day." Words we could all take to heart.