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Q&A: André Leon Talley

He chatted with WWD about his projects for Numéro Russia, his take on the Academy Awards and the fascination of Americans with tabloid celebrities.

André Leon Talley

André Leon Talley

Photo By Andrei Rozen

MILAN — Privet, André!


André Leon Talley better get used to hearing that phrase, since he’s just joined Numéro Russia as editor at large. The first issue of the magazine is slated to be published this month.


That’s not his only new venture, though. While continuing to contribute to Vogue, the flamboyant editor has also inked a deal with production company Electus to develop a late-night talk show, after serving as a fashion correspondent for “Entertainment Tonight” since last year and as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model” from 2009 to 2011. Sitting in a suite at the Four Seasons here wrapped in a furry Louis Vuitton scarf on a chilly, rainy day during fashion week, Talley chatted with WWD about his projects for Numéro Russia, his take on the Academy Awards, the most influential designers, and what he views as the “exhaustingly tacky” fascination of Americans with tabloid celebrities.

WWD: How will you develop Numéro Russia? What do you have in mind in terms of visuals and content?
Andre Leon Talley: My strategy is to bring my training. I’ve been trained by the best, working closely with Anna Wintour. My university is Vogue which is the best, top school in the world — American Vogue — and so I feel that I have definite skills to bring to Numéro Russia, something exciting for the Russian market and the Russian fashion reader that creates a human side to the fashion theme, a human narrative. Russia is a place of great culture. If you’ve read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov…the culture of the great Russian literature is amazing. The human narrative you get out of “War and Peace” is universal. I would like to try in the visual standards to lift the standards higher and up and out of just the standard seamless [background] in a studio. This is still important, but I would love to be able to use Russia and all of its magnificence, history and culture in a special way. 


One my favorite things is to go to the provinces of Russia and see the 18th century wood churches with the onion dome architecture. These humble wonders of incredible imagination of architects that were obviously not living in places like Paris or London, but they’ve created these amazing churches. I’ve taken tours, it’s not something I’m reading in a book, I went myself. I love Russia, this is why I took the job. I’ve been there at least seven times on cultural tours.

WWD: When was your first time?

A.L.T.: “I went on a cultural tour in the mid-Nineties with [Baroness] Helene de Ludinghausen, the directrice of Yves Saint Laurent couture.…She organized tours, amazing private trips.


I love Russian culture. I don’t know the young Russia, I’m not at all familiar with young Russia, but the old school Russia is good enough for me for the moment.”

WWD: What do you have in mind for the magazine?
A.L.T.:
Shoots in Russia with historical narrative relevant to the Russian landscape that is only Russian — that may be difficult, provinces you reach by car or plane, that are not right outside of Moscow or Saint Petersburg. I’m not talking of the palaces of the czar but humble Russian villages — such beauty in the churches, or the cemeteries with their run-down graves and people still living there like 100 years ago.


Naomi Campbell is on the first cover. I chose her because she lives in Russia now, she has a Russian life with her boyfriend Vladimir [Doronin]. They have an extraordinary new house by Zaha Hadid, and I was privileged enough to see it before it was completed. It’s extraordinarily modern to be in Russia.

WWD: Will it be featured in the magazine?
A.L.T.: Maybe in the future, not in the first one. Hopefully they will give it to us.


Numéro has a certain format I must adhere to, but I want to be culturally correct, electrifying the cultural theme, bringing in local personalities who are Russian and on an international scale. First thing I want to do is a big spread of American fashion, of designers in America who have stores in Russia. Where do you see a Russian magazine concentrating on American fashion, which is strong and valid, especially Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren having stores here but also others that don’t have stores in a Russian setting?

WWD: How do you feel at this moment in life with what you’ve accomplished and looking at your new projects?

A.L.T.: It’s a very creative moment and I’m very proud of myself here. On Jan. 28 I was at Oxford, at the Union Club Debate Society. I got the invitation by mail and I thought it was a joke. I spoke about my life, my background, my humble beginnings in North Carolina, my book, my life with Andy Warhol, my life at Interview, my life at Studio 54, my life in Paris, with WWD, with Vogue, Anna Wintour, everything that I’ve done. I spoke to 200 students and it was so well received. I knew it would be, I was prepared, I’d done my homework, I was sure that I would be a hit but I was not sure I would be smash hit.


There is no fashion school at Oxford, it’s the mecca of education, there is no fashion school, students came from 39 different universities. It is one of the oldest places established…what in? [Asks his assistant at a computer, who says the university dates back to 1209.] Thank God Jeffrey is here with his computer, it’s just as in an American TV show.

WWD: Speaking of television, how do you feel in front of the camera? Do you feel comfortable?
A.L.T.:
I always feel comfortable, basically in any situation except perhaps airports. I feel insecure because of the process. You never know how long they are going to let you stand with your shoes off, if they are going to throw away your most expensive cream because it’s 120 ml. as opposed to 100 ml., it always happens to me. I don’t know what to expect.


You can’t argue with them. I had been given a beautiful bottle of fragrance from L’Wren Scott, they made me go twice, tested the cologne, wrote down my name and that of the fragrance. It’s annoying.

WWD: Yes, and you are busy.

A.L.T.: Yes, I’m busy and I like to go fast.

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