Andre Leon Talley Dishes on Anna Wintour & Hungry Mannequins at His 80 Black Dresses Exhibit
I’m sitting on the front porch of a Savannah, Georgia cottage talking about custom made Barack Obama caftans with Andre Leon Talley. Does life get any better than that? Read ahead to check out our discussion on his 80 Black Dresses Exhibit, the symbolism of the exhibit’s hungry looking mannequins, stories about Anna Wintour, and things most people don’t know about the fashion icon.
FI: What do you think little black dresses are so significant?
ALT: You are empowered by your black dress. Your little black dress conveys to the world that you feel great about yourself, that you have confidence, that you’re a woman, or a man in the case of Marc Jacobs, who has dared to come out into the world with your best foot forward. It’s that uniform that says to the world, “I’m free, I’m liberated and I feel fabulously great about myself”. It can either express a kind of avant-gardeness, it can express a kind of correctness, it can be bold, it can be subtle, it can be outlandish or it can be totally classical.
And what does it mean to you personally?
All the great moments in fashion in the 20th and 21st century have had little black dresses involved. They just represent moments of perfection.
Let’s talk about the non-black dresses in the exhibit. There was the red Oscar dress, the black and white printed dress and the navy blue. What brought that about?
When an event says “black tie” you can wear another color like navy blue and it still has the power and drama of a black dress. So it’s freedom, its up to your interpretation. If you had a solid red dress on I would say that’s the same as a little black dress. Today in fashion, there are no rules.
The center of the exhibition we see a black collapsed carriage sculpture by Rachel Feinstein. What was the symbolism?
It represents collapsed elegance– symbolizing everything is collapsed in terms of fashion rules. It is black, the color of the show, its beautiful, it’s elegant, but it’s collapsed. In fashion, you can make your own rules. People think differently than before when it used to be about a black dress being just for a funeral, a board meeting, or for the country club dance.
Tell me about the walls, the red and the drama.
It took months of color tests to get the right color. I was on a Delta flight and I had something that was laminated, I think it was instructions for the safety belts, and I thought, “This could be the right red.” Then I was in California at a friend’s atelier and there were bolts of red fabric of the same shade, so I said “give me a swatch of that” and SCAD mixed the paint to that same color.
The mannequins were so thoughtfully placed, what was the idea behind that?
It’s a long process to pick the right mannequin for the right dress. And having the right gesture, you know, the girls on the bench all languid. It’s a ball and they may be bored, they may be tired, they may be angry, they may be starving but they can’t eat.
They did look a bit starving, with their elevated necks and the limp wrists.
The mannequins represent the girls of the ball, they are having their moment and they are happy because they know that they have the most gorgeous dresses on but because they think of their figures, it makes them slightly on edge, perhaps even cranky, but they can’t fall apart because they’ve got their dresses on. They are the girls who have the best wardrobes but are all, “Oh, I’d never eat at the ball.” They would be eating like birds.
So who would be your ideal black tie date?
My friend Princess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis. Pat Altschul. Renee Zellweger. Mariah Carey. Venus and Serena Williams. Anna Wintour.
And do you think they’re slightly edgy and hungry?
No. No. No. Anna Wintour’s the fabulous queen of the black dress.
Do you have a good Anna Wintour black dress story?
The Chanel dress in the frame. Did you see that one? That’s her dress that she wore, I think to maybe a Chanel fashion show. And it’s made for her. All of her dresses are incredible. They represent moments of selection, the process of fitting, and she always looks stunning, even if she’s in a Prada dress with gold lobsters on it, as she was this year.
What are 3 things that most people don’t know about you?
You can’t judge a book by its cover. I’m a man of really true, deep deep waters. The river runs deep. And I am absolutely passionate about what I do. And I am a very serious person. Although I think you can only be serious when you can be flamboyant seriousness. And the flamboyance is grounded by a great deal of seriousness.