This past weekend, contributing Vogue editor, departing America’s Next Top Model judge, and front row fixture André Leon Talley left the fashion hustle and bustle of New York for the Southern Live Oak-lined streets of Savannah. He was there to celebrate the opening of his namesake gallery at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s new museum of art. He curated the gallery’s first exhibit too, pulling dresses from the 12 designers who have received the ALT lifetime achievement award, an award presented each year to a different designer selected by Talley at the SCAD student fashion show. Past recipients include Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada.
“I am genuinely inspired to come here,” Talley said. “It’s an antidote to the chiffon trenches of fashion week…the rich and complex beauty of the city, the school as a first class art and design university, it means a lot to me.” Talley has long been affiliated with SCAD–he sits on the board, received an honorary Doctorate of Humanities, is helping to create the College’s first costume collection, and now has a gallery named for him at the school’s new art museum.
While weather prevented us from actually seeing the gallery and speaking to Talley face-to-face, he was gracious enough to take some time for a phone chat. We talked to him about curating his namesake gallery, what he’d like to see in that space in the future, and coping with the break-neck every increasing speed of fashion today.
Fashionista: You’ve been a fashion editor for years–what was it like to curate a gallery? How did you envision the space?
I had in my mind that the inspiration for the exhibit would be the powder room scene in The Women and the dresses from the 12 designers worked brilliantly. We’ve recreated the scene in a post modern way. We have the dress Zac Posen designed for Christina Ricci for the Met this year; we have a beautiful Chanel couture dress from 1984; we have a dress from Tom Ford’s first collection last year that’s made of string–it looks like fringe but it’s really string; we have two beautiful Oscar de la Renta gowns–one that Karlie Kloss wore on the runway and that Penelope Cruz later wore to the Met; and Manolo Blahnik, who came this year to received the award from SCAD, I edited it down to one iconic design and it’s the blue shoe that Mr. Big used in Sex and the City to propose to Carrie. Less is more. And then at the last minute I had this brain wave to put a screen on the wall to show Manolo on a video loop of him making milkshakes with Martha Stewart on her show last spring. So that video loops above this fabulous pair of blue shoes which rest on a bed of fresh white rose petals which are scattered on a cocktail table. The music that we’re using to create atmosphere is the entire soundtrack from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
You mentioned to the Times that you’d like to incorporate scent into the exhibit. Is that happening?
That’s not happening for this show but it might happen in the future. They had so much to do with the opening of the museum that I will spring that upon them for next time.
What do you envision in this space in the future?
SCAD has their very new developing costume wing. The museum has, after three years, just about 1000 pieces and 100 pieces of couture from YSL, Chanel, and Valentino. I see some sort of exhibit that shows off [the costume collection] but i haven’t thought about it really. I see maybe an exhibit on furniture, on eccentric chairs or eccentric beds or eccentric luggage. Maybe a whole exhibit on machines, I was thinking machines that create fashion, sewing machines, I think they’d look great in this space.
How do you go about acquiring pieces for the costume collection?
I ask my friends. I just go in my rolodex and call. I find out whose closets are bursting at the seams and want to donate their clothes and they’re happy to donate pieces. I’m not doing it full time but I have people in mind. I know a lot of people who have a lot of clothes.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the relentless sped-up digital pace of fashion and the toll it’s taking on the industry. What are your thoughts on this?
I think that fashion could take a pause. I think that people don’t have time between the seasons to enjoy the view. Back in the day when I started there was a pause. In paris we would go to three shows a day. Now you can go to 13 shows a day, and that’s just 13 out of 20. People need to enjoy fashion and it’s hard to enjoy when there’s so much. An individual has to find a way to make the fashion enjoyable, whether that’s a blog or a Tweet. The world is so instant and so immediate, the fashion pace is so demanding, that one doesn’t have time to savor, like a fine wine, the beauty and the exquisiteness of fashion–be it a fashion show, a fashion season, a fashion designer, a fashion conversation or a fashion film.
Is there a solution?
I have no idea.
Click through for some photos of Talley’s exhibit. Better yet, treat yourself to a trip to Savannah and see it in person. The exhibit will be up until mid February.