André Leon Talley: “I See the Moment Coming When Men Will Want to Wear Dresses”
Longtime Vogue Contributing Editor André Leon Talley’s latest project is as curator of the “Little Black Dress” exhibit at Savannah College of Art and Design’s [SCAD] Museum of Art. It’s a fitting collaboration considering that Vogue predicted in the 1920s that the little black dress would become “a sort of uniform for all modern women of taste.” We chatted with Talley about the exhibit, the iconic little black dress moments that stand out to him, and why he doesn’t think it will be long before men jump on the little black dress bandwagon.
The Vivant: Tell us how this exhibit came together.
André Leon Talley: I was looking through the museum collection at SCAD and I came across this really beautiful black 2006 Chanel dress that Anna Wintour had donated. It’s really a symbol for the exhibit.
It [the exhibit] come together in less than a year. It’s really just been me emailing friends about dresses. Even up until June and July I have been finding dresses after going on Vogue appointments. I just kept adding dresses. I added dresses from Balenciaga and Proenza Schouler from resort.
How does the exhibit show the evolution of the little black dress?
It goes from the historical to the contemporary. From 1906, to the ‘70s, to the ‘90s, and it shows the evolution. The little black dress is no longer the uniform for a country club membership. It’s no longer the dress from the ‘50s to put on on a Saturday evening with one strand of pearls.
It can still be that to someone, but it has also evolved thanks to Comme des Garçons, Marc Jacobs. Suddenly there is a black dress for every occasion. It can be very bold and very individual.
Anything in particular people should pay attention to in the exhibit?
Pay attention to [artist] Rachel Feinstein’s carriage, a symbol of collapsed elegance. Pay attention to the Oscar de la Renta gown with 70 yards of black tulle. And the Norma Kamali latex neoprene dress.
We read that you don’t think it will be too long before men are wearing little black dresses.
Men have worn dresses [in the past]. Scottish men for example. And it can be very elegant. I see the moment coming when men will want to wear dresses. I was walking around the SCAD campus and I saw a student wearing a utility kilt. And I just thought, that is a very elegant way to go to the classroom.
There have been so many iconic little black dress moments through the years, which stand out to you?
Of course Chanel. And in the 1946 Rita Hayworth movie Gilda the little black dresses were just extraordinary. Then the Mary Quant dresses with the white collars from the ‘60s.
So many women’s closets are just chock full of little black dresses. How many is too many?
That’s a good question. I don’t think there is a number. If you want to have 100 different pairs of black trousers it’s great too. It’s very individual.
We have to ask, what did you think of the spring runway shows?
Alber Elbaz offered suggestions that are current, unique and clever. Then there is the marvelous Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and the theme of the bees. That was just extraordinary. Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton inspired by the Diane Arbus twins. And one of my favorite moments, Ralph Lauren, based on this kind of Ernest Hemingway Spanish life.
Little Black Dress curated by André Leon Talley runs until January 27, 2013 at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia. For more information visit scadmoa.org.