Andre Leon Tally’s Weirdo Salons

andrea leon talley Andre Leon Tallys Weirdo Salons“Last time we were here, André said something that sort of stuck out to me,” said Shala Monroque, on the wintry eve of Fashion Week. “He said, ‘When I came to New York, I was very superficial. But it was O.K. to be superficial, because I had the brains behind it.’” Ms. Monroque and André Leon Talley, the Vogue editor, were welcoming guests to a long, narrow room, a room made to seem less so by dint of mirrored walls, above the Miu Miu boutique on East 57th Street. Mr. Talley, swaddled in a gray Moroccan burnous, nodded his large head. Taking their seats were perhaps 30 writers, documentarians, “muses,” models-slash and models-turned, 14-year-old blogger Tavi Gevinson, a man who did not marry Marc Jacobs and other industry hands who had responded to an invitation from Miu Miu and Ms. Monroque, a fashion writer and art consultant, to an open discussion. The designated topic was constructive superficiality.

“You can be very superficial, but you can also have depth,” said Mr. Talley, who earned a master’s in French at Brown. “In the world of Andy Warhol, in the world of the ’70s-which I came from-people were very superficial. People reinvented themselves through their clothes. As many of you do here, in this room.” The crowd murmured its agreement.

In the front, Peter Brant Jr., the 18-year-old son of supermodel Stephanie Seymour and publishing and paper-milling billionaire Peter M. Brant, piped up. “Some of the time you can’t really judge what something is just by looking at it. But a lot of the time, in fact-”

“-you can,” interrupted Mr. Talley.

“You can!” Mr. Brant was dressed in a black shirt, ascot, jeans and a cream-colored Tom Ford vest from which a string of Chopard pearls hung like a watch fob. “Because fashion, beauty-it’s really just a way of taking what’s inside and putting it out there so that everyone can see who you are.”

“You speak with a great deal of confidence,” said Mr. Talley. “I was often very frightened to leave the house, because everyone was going to attack me, when I was young. … My relatives were very anti- my outfits.” Mr. Talley was born in Durham, N.C., and largely raised by his grandmother.

“Well, I used to go to a very snooty all-boys school,” said Mr. Brant. “So I understand.”

Mirella Haggiag, who still possesses the leonine beauty that made her a successful model in the ’60s and ’70s, cleared her throat. “You don’t think that being born poor helps you to get to be deeper in-”

“Nooooo!” cried Mr. Talley. “Absolutely not, no!”

“If you are born poor,” continued Ms. Haggiag, who was, “there’s more possibility of being able to make up your success.”

Mr. Talley tilted his head slyly. “Would you say that about Luchino Visconti?” Mr. Haggiag allowed that the director was a very special case. Karl Lagerfeld, Daphne Guinness and Lord Byron were all discussed as individuals born into privilege who were constructively superficial. “It’s how you’re brought up,” said Harry Brant, Peter Jr.’s 14-year-old brother.

“I disagree,” said Oroma Elewa, the editor of the fashion magazine Pop’Africana. “You can be who you are, regardless of wherever and however you were brought up.”

“I actually think that superficiality is not reserved to celebrities. I think that it’s inherent in all of us,” offered photographer Elle Muliarchyk. “They do science experiments, with newborn babies, and they show them the faces of women. And they look at beautiful faces much longer than they do ugly faces.”

 The conversation wandered toward other problems.

Mr. Brant explained that his mother has a Vuitton room. “When she was the face of Louis Vuitton, instead of paying her with money, they paid her with luggage. So now she has twice as much luggage as she used to have, and it’s kind of hard to take care of.”

Mr. Talley suggested yacht varnish, a trick he learned from Diana Vreeland. “You have to use yacht varnish; otherwise it chips.”

None of those present who in fact possess Louis Vuitton bags use them for travel. “It’s conspicuous leisure,” said Mr. Brant, who said he recently read Thorstein Veblen. “A woman from Texas or whatever who’s married to an oil billionaire can go into Graff and buy everything and then go out and walk around, and everyone will know that she’s married to an oil billionaire.”

“Is that constructive?” Ms. Elewa looked stricken. “You should be more than your clothes.”

As discussion wound down, Mr. Talley pronounced the evening “as close to anything that I ever experienced with Andy Warhol,” and dismissed the seated guests. Waiters appeared, bearing bite-size cakes and pink Champagne. Ms. Gevinson chatted with Mr. Brant. She had remained silent during the salon; several of the guests, indeed, described being a little awed by Mr. Talley.

“It probably seems easy for people in this room to say, ‘Oh, being poor is important because it makes you so creative,’” said Ms. Gevinson, who was accompanied to the event by her father, Steve Gevinson, a recently retired high-school English teacher. “Though then there are people like Stephen Jones, who started making hats for his friends who were performing in drag clubs.” The milliner drove a delivery truck to put himself through fashion school. “And I think that’s very much affected his use of materials and his references.”

“People say don’t judge a book by its cover,” said Mr. Brant, between sips from a Champagne coupe. “But designing book covers is a multimillion-dollar business.”

editorial@observer.com