It was obvious from the moment he stepped onto the stage a little early—mid-introduction and wearing his signature black cape over royal purple pants, looking every bit the Supreme Justice—that André Leon Talley was eager to talk to the crowd at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF). He was there to discuss his newest book, Little Black Dress, the companion to an exhibition of the same name that he curated for the museum at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the audience was rapt.
As he flipped through the book, Talley shared memories of his favorite moments in black, from C.Z. Guest’s 1907 Fortuny Delphos gown to the lace Comme des Garçons number Marc Jacobs wore to the 2012 Met Ball, a bold move Talley effusively celebrated. “For all the men who aspire to wear a little black dress — go ahead!” Talley said of the look, mentioning a few floor-length kilts and Moroccan djellabas tucked away in his own closet.
Throughout the evening he also revealed the stories behind some of the iconic dresses from the book—many of which had been donated by friends, including Anna Wintour. One memorable dress was borne from a trip to the Galeries Lafayette to shop “with the masses” (it ended up at the atelier of Azzedine Alaïa) while another, massive gown by Chanel made its way from the closet of Madame Schlumberger to a designer consignment shop and on to the Met Ball. While reminiscing about the lost world of the couture-collecting grande dames, he also sang the praises of new experiments in Neoprene and latex, though he’s still (not-so-patiently) waiting for them to hit the red carpet. “I am so sick of a mermaid dress with a full train, borrowed bling and a pose,” he said, offering a sassy pose of his own.
Despite the exhibition’s monochromatic focus, Talley couldn’t help but include a few pieces in navy, and even a ruby-red skirt. “Sometimes navy blue can be black,” he explained. “It’s an individual choice.” After all, as his mentor Diana Vreeland once told him, you sometimes have to break your own rules to prove your point.