To merely listen or observe Andre Leon Talley, one senses cultivation - a cultivaton of tone, a regal bearing, a majestic presence which cannot be feigned - but which is a product of lifelong observation, education, and inherent self-awareness.
Reading A.L.T: A Memoir, we learn a determining factor in the A.L.T of today is his grandmother, who raised him in a strict, clean, healthy environment - free of artifice, but brimming with simple luxuries. Talley recalls this way of life with heartfelt appreciation - his narrative tone a blend of reverence and tangible, viable pleasure in the senses. His hard-working, church-going grandmother - Bennie Francis Davis - instilled in Talley, an only child, integrity, altruism, faith, and a loving respect for women.
Growing up, Talley witnessed the pride his grandmother obtained from her job, household chores, and a neat presentation of self (accented by the well-earned and deserved hat or perfect pair of gloves). We learn she always wore a hat to church and "her shoes always matched her handbag". Mrs. Davis provided Andre with what she knew to be the best environment a child can have - a safe, clean haven full of good food and good example. "In our family, cleanliness was so close to godliness that we plain had no congress with grime..., " says Talley, "Through soap and paste wax, rags, mops, and muscle power, I learned that cleaning itself can be restful, and that a well-kept home soothes the mind and spirit, making it easier to contemplate things beyond the physical and the everyday."
And in this well-kept home, Mrs. Davis allowed and encouraged Andre to dream his own dreams and to observe what made their lives special and wonderful... to appreciate the ways in which they were blessed. In Talley's description of a childhood electric storm - we sense the observing eyes which led to the fashion figure he is today:
"Life after a storm began again with the smell of nature washed clean, a smell as invigorating and reviving as any I have experienced... . When the storm ended, drops of rain beaded against the window screens and left crystal pearls on the velvety leaves of the geraniums."Talley's ability to sit still and absorb is also evidenced in his appreciation for books - he says, "I loved everything about them - the musty, disintegrating smell of volumes that hadn't been opened in years and the heady aroma of a brand-new art book with glossy illustrations; the brightly colored graphics on paperback jackets and the faded red, orange, or green spines of library bindings; the sticky-smooth plastic on the books one could take home and the rough, goatskin feel of the revered books in the reference section."
There, in his childhod observations and in his beloved reading, is where Talley began to detect what constituted elegance. I love his discussion of the "luxury of high style" and his mention of cyclical creation: "No one has to reinvent the wheel- you just keep turning it around and around, recycling the ideas, the couture that was born in 18th century France spread all over Europe and even to Russia, and affected the art of conversation, the art of food, the art of flirting, the art of living, the art of serving up coffee in a beautiful cup."
Another post - at Art Fashion Creation - with love for ALT and gingham. The pink link will transport you swiftly. Another link here - 2012 SCAD fashion show.