Seven life lessons – according to iconic editor André Leon Talley

The Gospel According to André Leon Talley is in cinemas today

It’s here! The one we’ve all been waiting for. The new film The Gospel According to André Leon Talley which documents the life of the iconic Vogue insider (and yes, in this instance use of the word ‘iconic’ is justified) – hits cinemas today. With that in mind, we take a look back at some of his best quotes and the lessons that can be learnt from them.

“You can be aristocratic without having been born into an aristocratic family” The Gospel According to André Leon Talley, 2018  

Although he describes himself as ‘private and shy’ in the new documentary (“clothes are my security blanket, and my outfits are my armour against the world of the chiffon trenches” he explains), Talley has always possessed a quiet sense of confidence in himself. Brought up in Durham, North Carolina by his (strict) grandmother, his beginnings are more humble than his status as fashion aristocracy may suggest, proving that wherever you’re from you can get to where you want to be with grit, hard work, and determination.

The lesson? Aristocracy is a mindset, not a given title.  

“I would have loved to have been at Vogue in the 60s when Mrs Vreeland was there. But then I wouldn’t have been at Vogue in the 60s because they wouldn’t have had a black male editor at a fashion magazine the way they did in 1983” – The Guardian, 2016

After a stint as a park ranger in Fort Washington (“I loved the outfit”), Talley entered the fashion industry by way of an assistant position at Andy Warhol’s now-defunct Interview magazine (RIP). But, for the quiet, shy boy from Carolina, it was Vogue that had his heart from the off. His ambition wasn’t without its difficulties though: “I wouldn’t have been at Vogue in the 60s because they wouldn’t have had a black male editor at a fashion magazine the way they did in 1983. In the 60s, you rarely had a black model. It was very elitist.” Despite this, Talley persevered and later worked as an assistant for Vreeland, with the iconic fashion editor becoming something a mentor to him, and the two enjoying a close, intimate friendship. And of course, years later, in the early 80s, Talley got his much longed-for position at the revered publication, where he stayed until 2015.

The lesson: Be determined and fight for what you deserve.

“Ms. Wintour inaugurated me into health. She saved my life I guess, in the long term. I was intervened about three years ago to lose weight. Naturally, what Ms. Wintour says goes, so I took up tennis” – The September Issue, 2009

Health, as they say, is wealth, and though he took a little coaxing to get into the swing of things (ie: Anna Wintour breathing down his neck), no one knows that better than André Leon Talley. The ex-Vogue editor-at-large took up tennis in 2008 at Wintour’s insistence and hasn’t looked back. But of course, when you’re as fabulous as he is, just as important as getting your heart rate up, fresh air in your lungs, and the blood pumping through your veins is (naturally) what you wear while you’re doing it. While us mere mortals might settle for seen-better-days sneakers and whatever leggings are clean that day, for Talley, only Louis Vuitton will do. As seen in The September Issue, he emerges from a cab and hits the court carrying an LV tennis racquet case in one hand and an LV gym bag in the other, before finishing off the look with a monogrammed LV towel around his neck.

The lesson? There are two. Keep your mind and body healthy, and be prepared. Literally anywhere can be your runway.  

“There is room in today's world for men to wear dresses” – CNN, 2012

Insert clapping hand emoji here. Of course, we’re all fully au fait with Talley’s tendency for blurring the line between gender with his ostentatious hats, fur coats, and lavish, embroidered and organza capes (see various YouTube videos of his Met Gala looks over the years for proof on this), but – as we see in The Gospel According to André Leon Talley – it wasn’t always this way. Reflecting on his childhood, Talley recalls being pelted with stones by boys outside his college for his outlandish ensembles and imposing physical presence, and remembers his mother’s embarrassment at some of the looks he chose to wear to church. The experiences didn’t stop him from doing exactly as he pleased, though. “If Marc Jacobs can wear a lace dress, I can wear a kaftan or anything else I want, at any time,” he explained in a 2013 interview.

The lesson? Forget the haters and just do you.

“Have knowledge of what you're talking about. Read and be curious. Always listen. Be prepared when you're doing something. That's especially true in the fashion world” – Glamour, 2013

We can’t advocate this enough. Though he lives his life as immersed in fashion as it’s possible for one person to be, Talley understands and appreciates the importance of taking a step back from its craziness sometimes. Having studied French literature at Brown University before embarking on his glittering fashion career, he’s still a keen reader with a deep-rooted interest in art and culture in general. A man of many (many) talents, Talley has also curated a number of exhibitions, including a retrospective dedicated to (good friend) Oscar de la Renta, and another to Vivienne Westwood, back in 2015. Of his decision to work on the Westwood show, Talley explained that he thought her work was “on the level of Yves Saint Laurent couture with the depth of her originality and boldness,” before going on to describe her as “the reverend mother of a certain movement in fashion.”

The lesson? Never stop learning.

“The most luxurious item is a beautiful bed and beautiful, simple sheets” – The Cut, 2013

Despite the all-LV-everything gym kit (see: lesson two), Talley is, at heart, a man of simple pleasures. Though we’re imagining the thread count is pretty astronomical, and you’d better believe they’re Egyptian cotton, we can all appreciate how lovely slipping between the sheets of a freshly-made bed can be. And it’s not just in the bedroom that Talley finds joy in simplicity either. “Luxury isn’t just about going and buying the most extraordinary set of luggage or the most extraordinary ring, or some beautiful, six-ply cashmere sweater,” he told Yale Daily News back in 2010. “That’s luxury, yes. But luxury can also be you having lunch with your best friend.” Wise words. But the best friend in question? Karl Lagerfeld (lol).

The lesson? Appreciate the simple things in life.

“Be kind. Smile. I read this somewhere: 'If you smile, it means you are in control of your destiny’” – Glamour, 2013   

Where former boss Anna Wintour projects an impenetrably icy cold image across the fashion industry and it’s (perhaps sometimes unfairly) known for its bitchy clique-ness, André Leon Talley has made a name for himself as a ‘gentle giant’ within it. A regular on the Met Gala’s red carpet, he’s now renowned for his effusive, charming commentary as he takes to cheerleading for the men and women that make their way down it. The power of a smile also cannot be underestimated. A simple statement, perhaps, but maybe the most impactive of all.

The lesson? Exactly as Talley says: be kind (and smile!)