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Durham gala fetes a native son

The luminous Mr. Talley 

Durham gala fetes a native son

I recently came across an advert in a circular that nearly drove me into a fit of uncontrollable glee. It was the announcement of the premiere Durham Arts Council Luminary Gala, and it has my name all over it. (Actually, it has Andre Leon Talley's name all over it, but more on that in a moment.) You see, as a child, galas, cotillions and debutante balls were my training ground. Myself and mother would bathe in scented salts and oils, dress in the finest of silks, taffetas and brocades, and away--in unquestionable style--to a sundry of these marvelous affairs. But not before I was home-schooled--at the hands of the top etiquette expert in the region--on how to carry myself at such gatherings.

"Mauve, a lady must always know how to present herself in every social setting," mother would instruct me. "It is of utmost import to learn, not the skills of a social butterfly, but the elegance of a refined swan," she would admonish.

We did exercises in crossing and uncrossing one's legs, presenting one's hand to a dance partner, curtsying, batting one's eyelashes, and casually flipping ones hair over one's shoulder ("the ultimate device in engaging the males species," mother called it). Such training and application are truly what shaped me into the lady of social rank that I am today (not to mention helped me to land the husband of utmost stature and financial affluence)--God bless you mama!

But back to the subject at hand: The Luminary Gala.

"This is our 50th anniversary year and we wanted to do something special," says Shelly Stonecipher, director of development and external affairs at DAC. "We thought there was a need in the community for a very special event that showcased the arts. We recognized that a tremendous amount of talent was coming out of our community that was achieving national and international acclaim in the arts."

And who better to honor than the successful, fashionably versed (and handsome, I might add) Andre Leon Talley, a Durham native, author of the beautifully written A.L.T.: A Memoir and editor-at-large of Vogue magazine.

Of the council's choice in selecting Mr. Talley, Stonecipher says, "One key component of the luminary award--if you look at the formal definition of 'luminary'--it also has a mentorship component.

"It was important to recognize people who were able to give a great deal of hope and inspiration to younger people. Andre Leon Talley's book had come out around this time, [and] his memoir talks a lot about his great passion for Durham and how important his roots were. And it also talks quite a bit about how his career really was a product of great mentorship--how that was something he strove to do in his own life. So he was our perfect candidate."

I recently caught up with the distinguished luminary himself, who was ever so gracious to give me a brief moment of his time (he was off to an early-morning meeting with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour), during his stay in Paris for Pret--Porter Spring 2005 fashion week.

"You listen to your dreams. The dream is the first responsibility," said Mr. Talley, when I asked him how a boy from Durham grew up to be the influential man of fashion that he is today.

"When I dreamed of these things, my responsibility was to inform and educate myself to be able to converse and articulate about the dreams that I had read about in my youth, that I wanted to pursue."

As to his impact in the fashion industry, Mr. Talley--who prefers not to ponder his influence--says "all I do is do what I do and try to do the best that I can."

Be sure not to miss an opportunity to celebrate a truly luxurious local luminary with the Durham Arts Council, on Saturday, Oct. 23. Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling 560-2787 or visiting www.durhamarts.org/gala/luminarygala.html. Hope to see you there. And remember: Let's go out there and look fabulous!

A Fact: Mr. Talley won the approval of Diana Vreeland, the special consultant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, when he was assigned the task of styling the queen of Egypt mannequin for the Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design exhibit. "I ran off to the paint department, grabbed two cans of gold spray paint, ran back to the gallery, and went to town, spraying the mannequin's whole body the same gold as the dress," writes Mr. Talley in A.L.T.: A Memoir. "Right-o, right-o, Andre! I say!" was Vreeland's enthusiastic response to his royal creation. (Quotes copyright 2003 by Andre Leon Talley. Reprinted with permission from Villard Books.)

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