سه شنبه 7 مرداد 1393
André Leon Talley joined Isabel and Ruben Toledo at famed Broadway watering hole Sardi’s on Wednesday night before an audience of YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund recipients. Talk quickly turned to their shared histories: the three worked together as interns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in the mid-seventies, where former Vogue editor in chief Diana Vreeland served as a special consultant.
“I did not meet Mrs. Vreeland directly on my first day,” Talley recalled, “but by the second day, she knew who I was,” thanks to a swimsuit-and-metal-fringe outfit he had assembled for the Institute’s upcoming Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design exhibit. Vreeland’s own “entrance was so dramatic—it was beyond,” he described. “She didn’t walk on her heels; she walked on her toes, and the rouge, and the bag, the hair . . . this was 1 o’clock in the afternoon.” She summoned him to her office an hour-and-a-half later: “I sit down and she looks at me, and she says, ‘Now, what is your name?’ and I say, ‘André Leon Talley,’ and she has this legal pad . . . and writes big, ‘André.’ And she stands up, and says, ‘Now, you will be by my side for the duration of putting together this show.’ That was late October 1974.” Following the exhibition’s December vernissage, she insisted that he stay in New York, eventually securing him a paid position at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
Isabel, the seamstress (as she prefers to be called) behind First Lady Michelle Obama’s lemongrass yellow shift and coat on Inauguration Day in January 2009 (and approximately 135 Tony Award Nominated outfits for the cast of Broadway’s After Midnight), founded her business during her Costume Institute era—or, as Ruben told the group, he founded it for her. He brought a dozen dresses to Henri Bendel and Patricia Field’s boutique, taking orders the same day. They taught themselves pattern grading, sizing, and cutting in volume, and hand-embroidered the labels due to their shoestring budget. “We started actually making a living from Ruben’s drawings for Details,” Isabel said, and Ruben’s work depicted what he called “a Fellini circus . . . satirical drawings about the fashion world and how it all functioned magically.” Of their marriage, Ruben noted, “We’ve always worked together—as far as I’m concerned, art can’t live without fashion and fashion can’t live without art.”
The trio then gamely sat for a lengthy Q&A with the scholarship recipients. Here, some of their insights:
Kids, keep your enthusiasm: “Bill Cunningham, the photographer—we first met him as kids—he said to us, “Kids, keep your enthusiasm,” and to this day, thirty years later, it’s really incredible advice.” —Ruben Toledo
Do your homework: “Mrs. Vreeland and I remained friends for all her life and I have to say a lot of it was based on literature and reading. Of all the things you can do in life, the best thing you can do is read. Research. Whatever you’re interested in, whatever your field is, be it marketing, fashion design, whatever, you have to do your homework . . . I take mental notes. Anna Wintour and I have sat at fashion shows for thirty years and we’ve never taken a note because somehow I have some elephantine memory, I know the best dresses. I don’t know every single dress in every single show, but I can remember the best dress collar in 1982—it was on Bonnie Berman, a white dress in double crepe, a spring dinner dress but done like a man’s shirt, men’s tailoring around the pockets and it was all embroidered in gold by hand. To borrow from Judge Judy, Vogue didn’t keep me around for 30 years because of my looks, they keep me there because I knew what I was talking about.” —André Leon Talley
Inspiration is everywhere: “You don’t have to read Tolstoy the way that I do, you can read Us Weekly and you can find something there. I read Us Weekly and the Enquirer, but I read Tolstoy as well. As a journalist, you must read everything, you must research, you must constantly be aware of everything. You must Google and just read and read. I spend half the morning Googling gossip.” —André Leon Talley
It’s not a competition: “I have a theory: Never bloom too early. I’m a big believer in big losers . . . eventually you’ll get there, and that’s okay. That builds character.” —Ruben Toledo
“Listen, there’s always going to be other people in the world. Do not even think about the other people . . . When I was working for Mrs. Vreeland there were other interns far more fashionable than I was, far better dressed than I was, everything was Rive Gauche, all fluttering around there too, but she wasn’t listening or paying attention to the others. Because of the work that I had done from my own instinct.” —André Leon Talley
Stress can be creative: “Some of my best work has been done on deadlines,” Talley said. “There’s this magical thing that happens when someone tells you, ‘Deliver, deliver it now,’” Ruben added. “Something genius comes out of you . . . and you couldn’t have done it better.”
A great editor always recognizes great talent: “Carmel Snow—she was the editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar in the thirties . . . and the legend about her . . . was when she went to the shows in Paris, like Balenciaga, which was the most important show to go to—and she would sit in the front row because she’s Carmel Snow—she was always taking her naps, sort of snoozing . . . but when the right dress came by, she could sense it with her eyes closed . . . and then she’d perk up.” —André Leon Talley
“Little things” add up to large success: “When I was eight years old and I took that first needle, and started stitching, I felt successful, like, I did this. The first time I sat at a sewing machine, an industrial machine, and I could drive it like a car—success. Little things, little things; never the big picture.” —Isabel Toledo
How you know that you’ve arrived: During tea at the Plaza Hotel in May 1975, while Talley was on assignment for Interview: “Karl Lagerfeld looks at me and says, ‘Follow me, follow me, follow me.’ And . . . in the bedroom, he opened these fabulous, printed Goyard trunks, and he was throwing things at me—his clothes—saying ‘Take this, darling, take this. This’ll look good on you and this’ll look good on you,’ and it was all of these clothes that had been custom-made [that] he thought I would look good in. And, he gave them to me on the first time he met me, and I walked out with a Karl Lagerfeld personal wardrobe.”