Andre Leon Talley is one of the most beloved, larger-than-life (literally and figuratively) personalities in the fashion industry. So it's fitting that he was the latest fashion figure to sit down at the 92Y with Fern Mallis for her "Fashion Icons" series.
I have to say, I've been to a number of these, and I've never seen an attendance quite like last night's: Michael Kors quietly slipped into a seat moments before the session started; Gloria, Princess of Thurn and Taxis (and mother to Elisabeth) heckled him from the audience; and Bette Midler and Carolina Herrera listened in from the wings.
There's a reason that Talley has gathered together such an incredible group of friends--not only is he incredibly witty and charming, he's also just plain nice. Along with sharing anecdotes about his life--many of which can also be found in his autobiography, A.L.T.: A Memoir (I highly recommend, by the way!)--he shared a few quips and quotes that we hadn't heard from the gregarious editor before.
Read on to find out what makes Karl Lagerfeld an amazing friend, how Talley feels about racism in the industry, and the surprising reality TV star he loves.
He's in total agreement with the Diversity Coalition: Mallis touched on the movement, started in part by Bethann Hardison who was in attendance, and Talley stands behind the group. "For so many seasons, the industry has ignored the fact that designers think one black model is enough," the editor explained. "We as people have style and culture--we want to see ourselves in the shows!"
Later in the evening, an audience member asked if he had any advice for a young black editor facing racism in the industry. Talley cited fashion editor Edward Enninful, who recently faced discrimination at a couture show when seated in the second row totally apart from his colleagues, as a good example of how to handle issues. His advice? Take any major incidents to the mainstream media.
"You have to make people aware that they may not be racist, but they are doing racist acts," he said simply.
He's not that into reality TV--with a few exceptions: He's been a guest judge on America's Next Top Model, so he's certainly familiar with the genre. Still, the only thing he'll say about that experience--other than that he enjoyed working with Tyra--was that it "has helped [him] in many ways."
"It put a new roof over my house!" he joked.
Another reality TV star he's fond of? Surprisingly, Kim Kardashian. "If you had said a few years ago that I'd be dining with Kim Kardashian, I'd have said, "Uuuugghhhhhhhh!" he began. "But she came to me backstage at a show a few seasons ago, and she was so sweet--you realize she's such a sweet human being."
"She is WAAAAAAAY above Honey Boo Boo!" he finished. So maybe a Vogue cover isn't totally out of the question after all.
That tennis scene in The September Issue was--surprise!--totally contrived and almost got cut: Like Grace Coddington, it took a while for Talley to warm up to the idea of appearing in The September Issue. Cutler had to take Talley out to lunch to convince him it was a good idea--and it's a good thing he did. One of the funniest scenes features Talley playing tennis in full-on Louis Vuitton. Sad news guys: That's not at all how Talley gets fit.
"Anna [Wintour] wanted me to play tennis--you do what Anna says!" Talley confessed. "The Vuitton in that scene was borrowed from the Los Angeles boutique for filming--I pretended to play tennis in Louis Vuitton." (That diamond encrusted watch? Also borrowed.)
Shockingly, Talley received a rough cut of the film from director RJ Cutler before Wintour--and the now-famous tennis scene was missing. "You've taken out the funniest part of the film!" Talley recalls admonishing Cutler. "They'll all laugh and they will all love it." The scene made the final cut, and we all got to watch Talley pretend to play tennis in Louis Vuitton.
He's using his new role at Numero Russia to try and change Russian politics: Though Talley is enamored with the opulence of Russian history, he also confesses he's concerned with the current state of politics. When visiting the country, he won't leave his hotel without being accompanied by magazine staff. "I'm terribly concerned about the savagery of Russian culture," he added, citing recent incidents of violence at the Russian ballet and Putin's harsh policies towards homosexuals.
He expressed hopes that athletes will boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics. For his part, he'll be using Numero Russia as a platform to increase visibility and tolerance in the country. Up first? A profile of designer Tom Ford and his partner Richard Buckley, in which they'll speak about the joys of their new baby Jack.
Karl Lagerfeld is an incredibly generous friend: Talley's beloved grandmother and his mentor Diana Vreeland passed away just months apart, making the following holiday season incredibly difficult. Lagerfeld, who had also experienced a profound personal loss when his lover Jacques de Bascher died of AIDS that same year, sent Talley a ticket for the Concorde on Christmas Eve. Lagerfeld's driver picked Talley up in Paris and drove him to his country house, where the two spent the holiday keeping each other's spirits up.
Of course, that's not all the designer did for Talley: He presented the editor with a Faberge pen, detailed with his initials in diamonds.
"It's wonderful to have friends like Karl," Talley told Mallis. "When I turned 50, he gave me $50,000." ("And I NEVER slept with him!" he added laughing.)
Later in the evening, Talley, who will spend his 65th birthday this October 16 letting Oprah film him in his home, told Mallis he hasn't eaten a bite of sugar in months. So what will he have instead of a birthday cake?
"Probably a check from Karl Lagerfeld!" he joked.