he will not be outshone, not even by amanda lepore.
(source: crunk & disorderly.com)
A Cover Girl Who’s Simply Himself
WHAT follows is, in brief (well, not so brief), the curious tale of how a handsome black man who can also look an awful lot like a beautiful black woman, except with better legs than most and a beard, happened to end up on the November cover of French Vogue.
The time was summer 2007. The man, who goes by the name Andre J., and who was born Andre Johnson 28 years ago in Newark, and who is a sometime party promoter and former perfume salesclerk at Lord & Taylor and former publicist at Patricia Field’s boutique and current downtown personage (an “It” person, as he was termed in Paper magazine), was running out of his apartment on Thompson Street in the Village for lunch.
It was a hot day. On this particular scorcher, Andre J. had chosen to stay cool in a neon green caftan and gold gladiator sandals. His hair, which, pulled taut, measures 24 inches in length and which he usually wears in a bouffant nimbus that gives him the appearance, as a magazine stylist recently remarked, of “a big Afro-daisy,” was dressed that day in a 1970s Wet & Wild style and covered in a enormous white turban à la Nina Simone.
This was not an unusual grab-a-sandwich ensemble, as Andre J. is quick to point out. “That’s me every day, honey,” Andre J. said on Friday, right before a party at a club called Runway to honor his election to the elite cover girl sorority, Gallic chapter.
“Most people are conditioned to think of a black man looking a certain way,” Andre J. went on. “They only think of the ethnic man in XXX jeans and Timberlands, and here Andre J. comes along with a pair of hot shorts and a caftan or maybe flip-flops or cowboy boots or a high, high heel.”
And so, Andre J. was running out for a sandwich and who should he bump into but Joe McKenna, the stylist who is the secret weapon behind the success of many, many very celebrated designers? Mr. McKenna was on the phone at the time. The person on the other end was Bruce Weber, the celebrated photographer of, among other things, dreamily homoerotic calendar art for Abercrombie & Fitch.
When Mr. McKenna spotted Andre J., he immediately put Mr. Weber on hold. Mr. McKenna then called out to Andre J., whom he had met before and had once suggested for a V magazine pictorial photographed by Vinoodh Matadin and Inez van Lamsweerde.
“Andre,” said Mr. McKenna, “you look amazing!”
ACTUALLY, he did not say it in quite that way. It happens that the adjective “amazing,” pronounced with a bunch of superfluous vowels, is how fashion types, and also certain urban gay men and also one or two tuned-in heterosexual copycats, lately express their approval. Amazing has replaced such locutions as “genius” and “major,” which today sound even more old-hat than “fabulous.”
“You look amaaaaazing,” Mr. McKenna said.
And, of course, Andre J. did.
“I always do,” remarked the man who appeared in that V magazine pictorial wearing a Farrah Fawcett-style coiffure and a gold necklace that read “Legendary” and skinny, skinny Judi Rosen cigarette jeans, and who, for a time, had a day job at a boutique on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, where his usual work uniform was a big fur hat and a beige fishnet shirt with a lot of holes in it and jeans so low cut that they exposed the pubic hair that he has since shaved off, and who has also appeared three times on Jay Leno, in cameo segments devoted to human curiosities.
“I went to L.A. for a while for the sex and the fame,” said Andre J., who, as if life were a lyric from a Burt Bacharach song, happened in those early years of this century to live for a time in a $60 a night motel on Sunset Strip, a situation that required him to change clothes after work each night, so as not to be mistaken on the street for a transsexual prostitute.
This is perhaps the place to mention that Andre J. does not consider himself a cross dresser. Except to the extent each of us getting dressed assumes some kind of persona, his style is not drag. He is not a person in regard to whom the prefix “trans-” obtains. It is simply that Andre J., who was raised in a loving single-mother household in a housing project in Newark with the uplifting name Academy Spires, is in no sense confined by the conventions of gender. Think of him as a performance artist who rolls out his own stage every day.
“I’m just expressing myself and not hurting anyone and taking myself to a place where I want to be, a place where the world is beautiful,” said Andre J., who decided that, having conquered Hollywood, in his manner, it was time to return home. “I packed up all my hot shorts, which really didn’t require all that much packing,” he said.
He returned not to Newark but to the Village and to Thompson Street and got jobs as a party host at Lotus on Tuesdays and Hiro on Sundays and continued to write in the journal he has kept for years. “Journaling” as he calls it, is a key to understanding the “positivity and optimism” that Andre J. says is what draws people to him, and also a way for him to “write things that I need to say that I can’t say to anyone, but that, if I put them on paper, go into the universe for the universe to hear.”
The universe was apparently picking up the Andre J. signal on that afternoon last summer, because Mr. McKenna said to Mr. Weber, as Andre J. tells it, “You have to see Andre and shoot him.” At the time, Andre J. smiled politely, and remained inwardly less positive. “This is New York City, honey,” he said. “Everybody will tell you everything.” Then he went and got lunch.
To the surprise of Andre J., and ultimately of people accustomed to seeing the same bland blonds on fashion magazine covers, the next thing that happened, after an interval of several weeks, was that an assistant to Mr. Weber called Andre and said, “Bruce would like to set up some time with you,” and Andre J. went to that meeting in a caftan over a pair of black jeweled panties and Mr. Weber took three Polaroid pictures and Andre left and soon thereafter received another call, from the assistant again, to say that Mr. Weber would like Andre J. to come to Montauk to be photographed for French Vogue.
“I did not know what to say,” Andre J. said. “Actually, I did know what to say. I said, ‘Yes.’”
And so it was that Andre J. — who had most recently been style-channeling Cher and compulsively Google-searching the late Detroit-born model and beauty and heroin addict Donyale Luna, and evolving his personal appearance to express what he thinks of as “a 60s, not mod, but mod-ish, and hippie look” that also contains elements of 1970s blaxploitation films — found his way to Mr. Weber’s compound by bus.
“The night before, honey, I prayed and I journaled,” he said. “Discretion and decorum is always important to Andre J., but when I got there and I saw Carolyn Murphy and Carine Roitfeld,” he added, referring to, respectively, the model and the editor of French Vogue, “I almost wanted to faint.”
He did not faint. He kept his composure. “I wanted to experience that beautiful day in pure bliss,” he said, “So I did not impose my own thoughts or views.”
This is just as well since Ms. Roitfeld has strong style views of her own, including the opinion that the pictures Mr. Weber shot with Andre J. seemed, as she said this week, “the more fresh” of the various images they captured.
“There is not a special message in the cover, I just loved it,” said Ms. Roitfeld, who on that hot sticky day in Montauk gave Andre J. some ankle boots to wear and a big cocktail ring and a blue neoprene Burberry trench coat that showed off his unbelievable legs.
“It fit like a glove and it was immediately showtime,” Andre J said.
James Brown was playing on the set as Mr. Weber shot Andre J. spinning like, as he put it, Diana Ross in “Mahogany.” He shot him next with Ms. Murphy. Then he thanked him, and Andre J. got dressed again in his travel caftan and went back to New York.
MONTHS passed and Andre J. was coming home from church one Sunday when a friend called to give him the news that he was on the cover of French Vogue.
“I said, ‘This is not funny, don’t play with me,’” said Andre J. “Then my friend said, ‘Google.’ And I went home and Googled and, you know what? There I was, honey, right where my heroes like Madonna and Mario Testino and Steven Klein can see me. Anything you love you can sell, honey, and I sold it. Andre J. is a part of history.”
I really admire him. I mean I wanted to be the first black male on French Vogue, but it's ok
I really like his whole "feminine-but-still-himself" approach to style. I never want him to shave the beard.
I can't see other people's signatures just so you know.
|aka, andre, gaymonn|