André Leon Talley is such a unique figure in fashion. Traumatised by sex as a child and largely avoiding it as an adult, he danced his way through the 70s (with Diana Vreeland AND Diana Ross), which probably helped him survive the AIDS years when so many others fell. He was usually the only black face in the glamorous jet-set fashion world of Lagerfeld, St. Laurent and all the super-rich they catered to. He would take the occasional snort of blow with Halson but still made it to church every Sunday. He nonetheless committed the biggest sin in fashion: he got fat. But he overcame that by turning caftans into a statement. He made a career out of being himself, which in almost in context outside of fashion would have relegated him to the margins. How does someone from a small town in the Jim Crow south end up working for Warhol at Interview, WWD, Ebony, Vanity Fair and himself become a fashion icon at Vogue? André Leon Talley tells it with great flair in THE CHIFFON TRENCHES, a fabulous name for a very enjoyable book.
Those of you who love celebrities and fashion will enjoy this documentary on the world’s most famous shoe designer. An eccentric of Hungarian descent who grew up on the Canary Islands, modelled himself on Cecil Beaton and constantly dreams of Sicily, Manolo Blahnik, wearing beautifully tailored suits and with scarves and socks carefully colour co-ordinated, is very much himself and a joy to behold. His career is legendary and touches on everyone who’s anyone in fashion: Diana Vreeland encouraged him to focus on shoes; Anna Wintour took solace in his company and his shoe-shop before either of them were famous; Paloma Picasso hung out with him in Paris; a thin André Leon Talley became pals with him in London in the 70s; he was the first man to grace the cover of Vogue in 1974, shot by David Bailey and with Anjelica Huston by his side. All of these people alongside Rihanna, Rupert Everett, Penelope Tree, Sofia Coppola and many others come to sing his praises. The film itself charts his career from an unknown emigré in Paris to becoming a fixture in fashion in the 1980s and household name in America in the 90s thanks to Sex and the City. It’s an enjoyable film to watch and, as expected, a delight to the eye.
There is only one moment however that seems to break out of the luvviness of the fashion world and hint at something deeper. John Galliano appears at Blahnik’s shop in the middle of a shoot. They clearly adore each other, lavish each other with compliments and then begin an homage to legendary Spanish flamenco diva Lola Flores. As they look into each other’s eyes and sing ‘Pena, penita, pena’, that classic and classically excessive song of hurt, both equally adoring but each trying to out-trill the other for the cameras, two lost boys are revealed; homeless, exiled, lonely and finding a connection in a shared appreciation of a culture they’ve largely lost but perhaps the more meaningful for that: it’s camp, silly, touching. I wish the film had gone deeper. Manolo Blahnik claims that there is nothing deeper to find, that shallowness is all there is when it comes to him. That’s what the film offers. But Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, in flashes of moments like those with Galliano, hints that it’s not quite so; that there’s a much more interesting story to tell, although it could very well be it’s not one Blahnik wants told.