THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ
Director: Kate Novack
André Leon Tully
Runtime: 93 mins.
Australian release date: 12 July, 2018
Previewed at: Revelation Perth International Film Festival, on 7 July 2018.
André Leon Tully is larger than life (literally, he’s massive) and in her fascinating fashion documentary The Gospel According to André, Kate Novack takes us on a journey from his childhood in Durham, North Carolina, where he grew up with his African-American grandmother, who loved beautiful hats, to the 2016 US election. The film reveals the triumph André achieved in a world where everything relies on your looks and one’s ability to cut it in the ruthless visual atmosphere of haute couture. The sobering fact is that all humans have to wear clothes but, in André’s world, it’s a serious business. So how did this young black man from the South make it so big - in more ways than one - in the fashion industry?
In his own words, André claims, “I don’t consider myself a slave to fashion, but a custodian and curatorial person of fashion” and this statement pretty much nails his career. Initially recognised by the doyenne of American fashion in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the redoubtable Diana Vreeland (Editor-in-Chief at Vogue from 1963 to 1971), he was taken under her wing and taught everything he needed to know about fashion journalism; early footage shows how close they were and how he revered her. André went on to become Bureau Chief of Vogue in Paris and subsequently, Editor-at-Large. His career also involved working for other publications, including Women’s Wear Daily and W and he became the official ‘compere’ of the Met Ball in New York. André met and knew almost everyone in the fashion world and had close relationships with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs and Anna Wintour, all of whom speak candidly about their respect and admiration for him. Indeed, there are many interviews with celebrities covering the Who’s Who of fashion and they make captivating viewing. Watch out for his moment with Isabella Rossellini, when she introduces him to her giant pigs. It is simply divine!
You don’t have to be a fashion lover or an aficionado of the industry to appreciate André’s story. His knowledge is vast and it is interesting to see just how informed he is; even Anna Wintour admits that he knows much more than she does. The film succeeds in making us realise that there is more to André’s profession than writing about, or wearing, the latest or the best clothes. Fashion is perceived as not only an art form but an industry with strong social and political ramifications as well – just think about T-shirts bearing slogans! There are also some poignant moments when André reflects on his anxieties, namely being a gay, black man who has never had a long-term partner and sadly acknowledges that he’s never fallen in love. We also learn a lot about the difficulty of growing up African-American in the Southern states, especially during the years they suffered under Jim Crow laws, and the dignity and grace of black culture.
The Gospel According To André opens this week and is worth discovering, if only to experience a world that most of us generally view from afar. André is a fascinating character and Novack’s documentary gives us a close up and personal look at this charming man.