Monday, October 9, 2017

My (Not a) Dinner With Andre

Cherie Flores & Lynn Wyatt with ALT
There was no dinner with Andre Leon Talley Sunday afternoon, though I imagine that would have been fun. In his opening remarks at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Andre graciously thanked the assistant who fetched his espressos from Hotel Zaza ("very important to the work") and pimento cheese or egg salad sandwiches from Picnic ("I like to eat, you may have noticed"). For Andre Leon Talley, Fashion is the staff of life. This is what he lives on. He may have talked for an hour, but he could have gone on into the night.

Clifford Pugh with ALT at the MFAH

ALT (as he shall be known hereafter) was a protege of Diana Vreeeland. He's best known as former editor-at-large of Vogue and Friend of Anna, but he seems to know everyone who is anybody in the worlds of fashion and celebrity. He may have begun his career as a journalist but has far-reaching opinions and a true gift of gab.


Houston is hosting a retrospective, "The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta", through January 28, 2018. ALT curated the show, which is a version of one that previously appeared in San Francisco at the De Young Museum. Houston socialite, fashionista and friend of the arts, Lynn Wyatt, got the ball rolling.


There are dresses from the de la Renta archives, MFAH collection and loaned from Houston socialities and other celebrities. Amal Clooney allowed her wedding dress to be shown exclusively for this exhibit (ALT can be very persuasive). There have been festivities for weeks (a ball, a runway show, a luncheon), but Sunday afternoon belonged to Andre.

He is 6'6" and sat on a sofa plumped with additional cushions. All in black and wrapped in black velvet, he did indeed look like the "fashion god" he has been called. Although he came out with notes, he never referred to them. He didn't need to.

The host, Clifford Pugh, writes about Houston cultural goings-on and has known ALT for years, so it was an easy conversation. ALT told how he met Oscar through Diana Vreeland. He was volunteering as an assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. Here he explained that even as he became friendly with myriads of accomplished and well-connected people, he was "never arrogant". To this day he refers to her as "Mrs. Vreeland". Oscar, it seems, was different. He was always "Oscar", loved to have fun and make you feel at home.

ALT told a story how Oscar came unannounced to his house in White Plains, New York. Though only 25 miles from Manhattan, White Plains, an unassuming residential enclave, is not a celebrity haven. Oscar told him he must start taking care of his trees. ALT, who was raised by his grandmother in North Carolina, thought trees just grew in the yard. They didn't need to "have the canopies pruned back", which Oscar insisted he do at $2,000 a clip. But he now has beautiful trees that he cherishes.

He also graciously called Laura Bush "one of the two best dressed women in the world, along with the Queen". That was a nice thing to say and proved he knew he was in Texas.

Laura and Oscar

When it came time for questions, ALT didn't miss a beat, from explaining the mannequins' footwear in the show— artfully tied ribbons or lace or suede leg coverings— to the choice of white or black evening gloves for the ball gowns ("always white— only showgirls wear black"). He really stepped up when a young woman commented on fashion being one of the great polluters of the ecosystem and what did he think of that? "Honey", he said to a round of applause, "that's not why I'm here."

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