Following Page One: Inside the New York Times, documentary filmmaker Kate Novack is turning her lens from the newsroom to the runway with her latest project, The Gospel According to André. For more than four decades, fashion powerhouse André Leon Talley has been a reigning arbiter in high-fashion editorial. We caught up with Novack, a Brookline native, to hear about bringing Talley’s life onto the big screen.
What’s the focus of the film? It traces André Leon Talley’s journey from being a young, somewhat lonely boy in the Jim Crow South to what he calls the chiffon trenches—the front row of high fashion. It’s a movie that is about fashion, but I also view his story as a classic American success story, with all of the difficulties and costs that he paid along the way. It hopefully transcends fashion and looks at success in America and the African-American experience.
How did you get the idea? I had been watching him in films for 25 years. He’s always larger than life. He’s always hilarious, but always as the supporting actor commenting on other people. He, for so many years, was the only one—by that I mean the only African-American man—at that level of fashion. I wanted to make him the protagonist of his own story because I think his story is important. I think he’s made it look very easy over the years and I thought that there was value in understanding what it really has taken for him to get to where he got.
What is your favorite thing that you learned about him? I didn’t know that his idea of luxury is actually much broader and more profound than diamonds and Louis Vuitton trunks—although he loves those things too. For him, I think luxury relates back to this idea of care, whether it’s his grandmother baking him biscuits from scratch, or ironing his sheets, or a beautifully kept floor that’s been scrubbed or a beautifully sewn couture piece.
How has your job as a reporter for Time influenced your work as a filmmaker? I worked at Time around 2003. The journalistic standards there were very high. There was a real commitment to accuracy and fairness. It was really smart people working under tight deadlines to get stories right. …I think in making documentaries I try to be accurate, I try to be fair.