Le Talk: Tom And Lorenzo

Whelp, here it is. The interview I did on Wednesday for l’étoile with two of the best of the best ever, along with a little color commentary from me. Tomorrow they will be at  at Macy’s Court of Mall Of America for a much-deserved book signing. Everyone Be There!

And now, for the interview…

 

I think it’s safe to say, without any shred of over-exaggeration, that we here at l’étoile, pretty much to a person, are rabid fans of Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez;  or as their known to all of their fans Tom and Lorenzo.

TLo

Lorenzo Marquez and Tom Fitzgerald

The acclaimed Philadelphia-based husband and husband bloggers have literally done it all. After making their bones with their iconically witty recapping of Project Runway, the two have branched out as culture commentators of the first order; with everything from television analysis (their “Mad Style” series, which examines Mad Men through the prism of the fashions and design of the times, is considered among the very best commentary of the show period), to red carpet fashion analysis, to pop culture commentary, and more falling under their purview. TLo (as they’re more colloquially called) have garnered acclaim from everyone from The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly (“If websites could talk (or eat, for that matter) this is the one we’d want to have lunch with!” ) and our own Star Tribune (“If Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez were a big rainbow flag, I’d wave it proudly.”), to the fashion elite (Joe Zee of Elle has had the pair on both of his shows All On The Line and Revealing on Sundance Channel), as well as developing a devoted following of Bitter Kittens (their term of endearment for their fans).

{Side Note: There’s another reason I personally love cher TLo. They are basically single-handedly trying to bring back the great tradition of the witty gay writers/personalities. And Thank Quentin Crisp for that! Maybe because I personally came out right in between the age of the Gay Movement and the LGBTQ movement, I appreciate that they are trying to turn the tide and bring back the long lost art of gay wit to cultural discourse. But I digress…}

TLoBookCover

And now, their hard work has taken them to the next level with the release of their first book Everyone Wants To Be Me Or Do Me. Based on a long-ago piece of advice that they had given a reader regarding her sagging self-esteem regarding her looks (“Darling, every day before you leave the house, look in the mirror and tell yourself ‘Everyone wants to Be Me or Do Me!’”), the duo have taken their signature wit and turned it on the rise and fall (and rise again) of the lifespan of an average celebrity; from their embryonic attention-whoring start though their turban and lifetime achievement ends, the book is loaded with laugh out loud advice on how to make it and survive it as a celebrity.

As uproarious as it is (click here for some of the more hilarious moments), Everyone Wants To Be Me Or Do Me has a pretty serious message at its core; rather than looking up to celebrities and stars for validation, what you should do is take their unbridled sense of self-confidence (or self-delusion) to get you through whatever smashes and/or scandals affect your own life. To quote their introduction…

“[Celebrities’] lives are based on a double-barreled combination of conformity and illusion, and their value is wrapped up in their looks and how young they can plausibly appear to be. These are not role models, these are cautionary tales.

Even worse, celebrities write countless books and give endless interviews telling people their philosophies of life and somehow they’ve not yet managed to improve humankind in any measurable way, except for a brief period in the eighties when everybody took up aerobics, but there was a lot of spandex involved so it was kind of a trade-off.

We don’t believe anyone should look to us for advice any more than you should look to celebrities, but if you must look up to them, then at least look up to them for their self-confidence, and the ways in which they use it to craft a seemingly invulnerable persona and then force the world around them to accept it. We could all use a little more of that in our lives and a little less fretting over our hips or whether our clothes are cool enough.”

Recently, I had the privilege of chatting to Mssrs. Fitzgerald and Marquez while they were in New York for Fashion Week and their book launch to talk about their book, their blog, their success, and their upcoming appearance at The Mall Of America on Sunday, February 23.

****

{Side Note: As soon as they said hello, I was thankful that this was a phone interview I was going through all of these phases of this Buzzfeed article.}

TO: First and foremost gentlemen, congratulations on the book! I’m so proud of you guys! It’s fantastic!

TF: Oh thank you so much!

TO: Now, I know the story but most of our readers don’t. So, tell us the great TLo story; boy meets boy, boys makes blog…

TF: (Laughter) Boy meets Boy: Well, we met each other 17 years ago last June in Philadelphia, and there’s not much more than that. We fell in love rather quickly and moved in together two years after that, and have been together ever since. No kids, three cats…

TO: The “editorial assistants” of course…

TLoEditorialAssistant

TF: Yes. There are there with us every single morning as we make decisions for the day. But they take no sides! I had worked in advertising, Lorenzo was a college professor, and after over a decade of doing that, we were not thrilled with those careers. And then we figured we needed to… We didn’t branch out on our own at that stage as we were getting older and in our mid to late 30s at that point. So we started a home based business doing translation and document preparation and copywriting and project management–that vaguely defined thing. But it payed the bills for five years.

In the meantime, when we were trying to get that business off the ground because we were bored being at home all day and had nobody to talk to about, you know, water cooler conversations. Well, first Project Runway debuted and we loved it and were the only people we knew at the time who watched it. We would go to parties and bars and talk about it and people would look at us as if we were nuts. Finally, around the Third Season of Project Runway people started noticing the show more, and Lorenzo really kept pushing us to start some sort of blog…

LM: …Because at that time recapping and all that stuff was completely new; not a lot of people were doing it. Now every magazine and newspaper they all have a recap of any show but at the time it was a new concept, and there were only one or two sites out there talking about Project Runway. And I was like “Why don’t we just come in with a gay take on it?”; you know, a gay bitchy funny male take on it. We were very busy at the time with our careers and Tom was like “No. We’re busy. What are you thinking?”, and I was like, “No. Let’s do it.”

TF: And he won, as he always does!

TO: (Laughter)

TLoPRseason3Finale

The Season 3 Finale of Project Runway. (Bravo)

LM : So we started a blog (Project RunGay) and the blog took off immediately, I guess, because of that unique voice, that unique take on it that nobody had at the time. And it took off and we got a lot more followers.

TF: It took off. We were very lucky because when people ask us how to start a successful blog, we say, “Well, you’ll have to follow our example of pretty much accidentally hitting on a pop culture moment as it reaches its highest point.” And what I mean by that is the summer of 2006 when we stated the blog that was when Project Runway was on the cover of every magazine. People kind of forget that time. They (the cast) were big TV stars for that summer, and it was the show that everyone was talking about, and we happened to start this blog right at that moment not realizing it. So we caught a wave immediately because there was an audience out there that wanted to talk about this show, and there weren’t enough sites out there that were talking about it. Anyway, we latched on to this audience really quick who were very, very encouraging to us; that was the big thing. They kept asking us, “What are you going to do when this season ends?” because they wanted us to continue writing. And that’s incredibly gratifying!

LM: It was the support of everybody–the readers and Bravo. Bravo noticed our blog right away, and they contacted us and invited us to the show (at Fashion Week). It was great. I still remember going to a barbecue and everyone at the barbecue wanted to talk to us because we had a blog about Project Runway. And we were telling everyone we had hit one thousand page hits in one day and were so excited at the time. It was a big moment.

TF: We did immediately start thinking about were we going to continue this path with Project Runway, and in the early days of the blog we did dabble in a bunch of different things. We started blogging about other Bravo reality shows, and then other reality shows in general, and then we branched out into actual television reviews, and somewhere along the way–fairly early on–we picked up on red carpet. And red carpet really became our bread and butter; it’s really where we made our name after Project Runway.

LM: Right. It’s a combination of us getting bored all the time–we get bored very easily–so we were trying to find different things to do on the site and also the readers kept asking us our opinion on red carpet and stuff.

TF: It was The Oscars around 2007 or something like that, and our readers were like, “Aren’t you going to do a post about The Oscar’s red carpet?” We actually resisted it! And our number one reason was two words–well, three words–The Fug Girls.

{Side Note: Traditionally during Fashion Week, Tom and Lorenzo and Heather and Jessica of The Fug Girls often will gather with Joe Zee of Elle to have cocktails. I think I speak for millions of fans of these people that we would kill for a fly on the wall podcast recording of these chats.}

{Side Note: This is an open letter to Heather and Jessica of The Fug Girls. I ADROE you two and would love to chat with / interview you. Let me know. If nothing else, let’s talk about Fug Madness and The (Brilliant) Fictional English Mini-Series.}

We did not want to infringe on their territory, and we know initially we felt “Well, what are we going to be able to offer that they’re not already doing?” And then it all came back to that we stick to that bitchy urban gay voice. That’s what we have to offer. Because I love The Fug Girls, I absolutely love The Fug Girls. I think they’re incredibly talented. I love them.

TO: We all do!

TF: Yeah. They are working that straight girl side of the street of red carpet commentary and that’s an entirely different perspective. They’ll come in and talk about things like, “How does she wear a bra with that?” and “Oh my god she must be so sweaty!” because we’ve never worn dresses. We don’t know. And then we come on the other side of the street with our bitchy gay you know… always shoot for the one-liner kind of thing, as well has having a good fashion background and being able to break down a look and tell people why it does and doesn’t work.

TO: That’s fantastic! You actually answered my next question which was how you transitioned form TV to Fashion, so that knocks one off the list. Let’s talk about the book!  Of all the things you could have written about–given the blog, given everything you’ve been doing-what made you decide to write about the lifespan of a celebrity?

TF: We knew very early on when we went “pro” so to speak. This was three to four years ago. We actually quit our jobs and made the site our career. And as soon as we decided to do that, we immediately had a conversation; “Well, this can’t be it. This can’t be the end point of our career. There has to be something past it.” Because blogging is a career that’s only been around a little bit more than a decade. Nobody’s been a blogger for twenty years so nobody’s done that.

LM: Yet.

TF: I’m saying it’s still a brand new type of career, and at the time when we went pro I said “Let’s have a conversation here.” We’re not twenty-one years old. We don’t have fifty, sixty years of work ahead of us to establish a career. We already worked for two decades in other careers; we have to look at this a certain way. And also because we’re just ambitious that way; we wanted more than just the website.

TO: Of course.

TLOAllOnTheLine

Tom and Lorenzo (right) with Elle Creative Director Joe Zee in Season 2 of All On The Line. (Sundance Channel)

TM: There were offers for television. Certain people approached and we were always really ambivalent about that. We would never rule it out completely – if someone has a good ideal we’ll just do it – but we knew that going for a reality TV show was not what we wanted. So, of course, the next thing was a book. We settled on a book fairly early but we also realized that we weren’t going to duplicate our blog content. That would have been a terrible idea. Why would you ask people to pay for something that you’re giving out every day for free on the web? That ruled out red carpet commentary. That ruled out reality TV commentary or Mad Men or anything like that. And over a month of taking over this, that because we had come into this career as grown ups – two people who had had careers before this – we weren’t caught up in all the hype of all of this “image”. We spend all day reading press releases, reading interviews, conducting interviews (we’ve conducted about sixty celebrity interviews over the last six years) and writing thousands upon thousands of words on how they craft their image. And we thought “You know what? Let’s look at this area.” Because if we do a style book for our first book out of the gate, we’ll probably never get a chance to write anything but style books; we’ll be pegged as style authors. And we wanted to be more than that; we wanted to be pop culture commentators. We wanted to be celebrity commentators, fashion commentators, all of that stuff. We did not want to be pegged fairly early on.

This book literally arose out of conversations the two of us have had over the last seven years every time we talk about the latest thing some celebrity did, or said, or happened to them. Because we started realizing the same things happen to them over and over again. There are all these tropes that play out over and over again in the celebrity world, and I don’t think we’re being profound by pointing these things out. The book is first and foremost meant to be funny. So, we want to have fun pointing these out, but we also hope that we have a slightly unique perspective on some of it because of who we are. Because of our success – whatever success we’ve ever had and we’ve said this about three times already in this interview – comes down to us being true to our voice, being true to Tom and Lorenzo. That’s why the site is named after us; because it’s not some generic site, it’s not some generic gay site, it is the world through our eyes. It is celebrity, fashion, and style through our eyes and our conversations,

LM: And again, the idea of the book is that if you read our site and you read our book you see that at some point we have touched on every topic we have mentioned in the book on the site, but in a post, in a very short way. And the idea of the book was to expand on every topic we had somehow talked about on the blog in a way that we couldn’t expand on in the blog.  And we were surprised by the readers’ reaction to the idea of the book, saying that it’s a great idea, and to show people that this is how celebrities work. This is how it’s laid out with celebrities.

TF: A perfect example of that is Reese Witherspoon on our site. We had that series of posts…

TLoReeseWitherspoon

TO: Oh, the Parking Lot / Sidewalk Tour!

TF: Yeah. There’s an entire chapter in our book on how celebrities say “I’m sorry;” the various ways they apologize to the public for making asses of themselves or after the public turns on them. Because we tossed that out there about Reese Witherspoon’s Parking Lot Tour, and I think that actually kind of resonated with a lot of people who realized “Oh, that is what she’s doing, isn’t it? She really is posing and trying to get people to love her again!” And it’s nothing like she’s buying flowers at Holton’s or something but it is funny to point that stuff out. People respond when when you say “See? See what she’s doing? That’s exactly what she’s doing!” They love that, and we love doing that.

LM: One of the best things about the book, and those posts and in having that conversation, is that now our readers know what to see and what to expect when we post something. They know why the celebrities are holding the bag that way or why they’re coming out of a place and looking at the camera and at the paparazzi and all that stuff. It’s very cool. So the book in an extension of that in a way, but the book stands on its own. If you’ve never read the blog and you just read the book, it’s an interesting book; it’s an interesting piece just on its own.

TF: And a fun piece! That was goal number one, to write something for the broader public. We knew our Bitter Kittens were probably going to be loyal to us and by this book. God bless them! We love every single one of them! The book is dedicated to them! But like any first time author you want to reach a wider audience; you want other people to find out what you have to say. So it was written in a broad voice. It still sounds like Tom and Lorenzo I think; it still sounds like what we say on our blog all the time, but at the same time it’s on its own as a book. Anyone could pick this up, anybody at all. And I’ve gotten feedback from my seventy-eight year old father, who doesn’t know a damn thing about fashion or celebrity. He read the book and he could not stop laughing through the whole thing, And I told him “You’re my dad and that is the most gratifying thing I could possibly hear.” That someone who has no idea about the subject matter still found the book well written enough that they laughed all the way through it.

TO: The thing is that it reminded me How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. The book by Shepard Mead that is, not the Frank Loesser musical.

TF: It’s interesting that you say that. The book isn’t a novel – there’s no story in the book – but you actually can track the life of a character if you wanted to apply it. There’s a Jennifer that keeps getting mentioned in the book. You know, we picked that name because it’s a stand in for the word Generic.

TO: (Laughter)

TF: And it’s one of the most generic celebrity names there is. It is not literally Jennifer’s story, but you can see it that way. You can see how it starts from a little girl and ends with an old woman, and along the way she grows up, she learns how to style herself, she gets a career, she gets a husband or a relationship, she has children, she goes through disappointments, she has to apologize for things, and all of that. She has her own little meltdown at some point and everything comes crashing down around her. But it’s not just the life of a generic star, it’s actually tying it to everybody’s life. You really can track certain aspects of your own life throughout the book. Again, this is all meant to be in fun; we’re not trying to overstate the profundity of this book, but it is meant to be relatable on that level. It’s about your life, and it’s about the ups and downs of this generic star’s life.

TO: I have this vision that someday soon managers and agents will be giving this to young starlets and saying “Here! Read this book, just follow it to the letter, and your career will be fine!”

TF: (Laughing) Absolutely! The number one thing you have to have to be a star is a lack of dignity and a nuclear level of self confidence that allows you to do and believe anything you want about yourself. So, yeah. You start with that and follow the tips in the book and you should have a great shot at a lifetime achievement award at the end.

TO: Or at least wearing turbans at the end of the day.

TF: Exactly! And who doesn’t want to war turbans at the end of the day?

TO: Well we all have our Gloria Swanson moments.

LM: It’s just great that if that’s what you want as a career you going to have to go – or eventually will have to go – through all of those steps, and that’s fine if that’s what you want. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

TF: I think that any star who actually read this book would probably laugh and roll their eyes and think it was ludicrous. But I guarantee they would stop at certain parts and go, “Okay, that’s true.” I’m sure they would see certain aspects of their career or certain choices they had to make. And that’s the other thing about the book. As much as it makes fun of celebrities, we hope that it comes across that we have a lot of sympathy for what they go through, because it’s a really screwed up way to live your life bit it’s kind of a requirement. They all have to live that way if they want to have a bit time career. And there’s a little bit of blame put on the public for this of what we ask from celebrities and what we turn on them for

LM: You almost can’t avoid that. You have to embrace the lifestyle to succeed in a way. It’s just the way it is. It’s fun, sad, and interesting at the same time. It’s life!

TF: It’s life!

LM: And you chose it. It’s what you wanted your whole life.

TO: Now that you’ve written the definitive book on the celebrity career trajectory, who do you think is doing it absolutely right? If you had to pick one star that’s winning at the celebrity game, using your book as the yardstick, who do you think it is?

Jennifer Lawrence in Christian Dior at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards

Jennifer Lawrence in Christian Dior at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards.

TF: I would say Jennifer Lawrence. And this is just a takeaway: I don’t want to accuse her of not being genuine because I think there’s a certain genuineness to Jennifer Lawrence that appeals to the public. However, I feel that that genuineness is largely overstated and people don’t realize how much calculation is behind it. I’m not attributing anything to her but she has a team of people like any star like that would. She has publicists, and managers, and agents, and stylists, and make up people, and hair people, she has jewelers, and shoe people, and she has film executives and producers – all behind her helping to push an image of her. And it all plays to her natural strength as a person; her spontaneity and her humor. I think it’s kind of hilarious that she has this image of this girl next door / every sorority girl’s best friend and, oh, by the way, she’s stunningly, stunningly beautiful and has this killer body. That sort of gets glossed over and she’s treated like the girl next door. Which the girl next door of course could have a killer body and be stunningly beautiful too, but part of her image is to downplay how beautiful she is so she’s not threatening. She hasn’t yet had a scandal but I guarantee she will within the next… I’m going to say eighteen months. I don’t think it will be a big sex scandal, she’ll just say something that the public won’t like and then they’re going to turn on her. And that’s when she’s going to be really tested, and I can’t wait to see how she comes through that! I have a feeling she will come through with flying colors. She really is very good at being a star and being very good at what we want out of a star in 2014. We want that appearance of being our best friend. I think she’s the perfect example of an A list modern celebrity. She’s glamorous and gorgeous, but it gets played down tremendously in order to appeal to a broad mass of people as their best friend.

TO: Ok. TV critics to TV critics here: Which show are you watching now do you think needs the most help? (Pause.) And you can’t say Project Runway!

LM: (Laughing) Well, that’s not fair!

TO: Well, that’s a given, you guys! Come on!

TF: I will say The Walking Dead. That is, no pun intended, a dead end show. They have not figured out what the story is for that show. And this is someone who has read the books and that’s a different medium. You can’t tell an open-ended, incredibly bleak story like that with no real theme or follow through, because that’s the medium of comic books. You can not do that on episodic television.  You really can’t. The audience is going to need more than that and at some point the audience needs to have the question answered “What is the point of this story?”. So far, the point of this story is “Everything’s shit, everything continues to be shit, and everything will always be shit.” You know what? I’m not a fifteen year old drawing on my jeans with a Sharpie.

TO: (Laughing)

TF: I’m not that fatalistic. It strikes me as an immature, dead end way of looking at the world. I’m certainly not calling for a happy story, or a less violent story; I’m all for that. But give me a story! What are these people doing? Why are we watching them?

LM: American Horror Story

TO: Oh, god!

LM: We were so excited to see all those fabulous women this season. It was like this buffet of wonder women, and it was just beautiful. But then it just fell apart. I think (show creator) Ryan Murphy is good at creating a story and establishing a plot, and then it just fell apart. I don’t think he knew how to continue that story and that idea he had and it just falls apart and not even great stars like Jessica Lange or Angela Bassett or Kathy Bates or whoever can make it more interesting. It was just sad seeing all these talented, beautiful women not being able to make it work.

TO: Since you two are at New York Fashion Week, which designers are you excited to see?

LM: We’re always excited to see Michael Kors. It’s always an amazing show and it is a show.

TF: Michael Kors we love because he’s packed to the rafters with celebrities, which is great for us because we can go around judging people. And as Lorenzo said, it’s super glamorous. It’s like a Hollywood version of what Fashion Week is about, and you feel like you’re in an episode of Sex And The City every time you go to his show. And he’s a lot of fun. Who else?

LM: Thom Browne is always theatrical and it’s a circus! It’s like theatre, it’s beautiful! And the clothes are just stunning! They look like couture clothes. And the inspiration this season is nuns! Can you believe it?  I can’t wait to see the designs, and the clothes, and it’s just beautiful! You want to cry it’s just so beautiful. I’m a fashionista – I just love fashion – so I just weep when I see his collection. It’s a perfect combination of fashion, talent, and theatre.

TO: We are so thrilled you guys are coming on the 23rd to Minneapolis!

TF: I can not tell you how excited we are!

LM: I know! We’re seriously excited! We’ve done New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and I love all those places, but this is where we live. So this is our first time going out into the world, relatively far away from home, to go out and meet our kittens. And I am so freaking excited to meet our Minnesota area Kittens!

LM: I know!

TO: They are a loyal and notorious bunch, speaking as one of them!

LM: Fantastic! And I keep joking because the weather’s so cold and so miserable, I keep telling Tom “We’re going to the North Pole!”

TO: Well gentlemen, thank you so much for your time and we can’t wait to see you on Sunday at The  Mall Of America!

****

{Final Side Notes: If you can’t guess, this was one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done period. Both Lorenzo and Tom were – and are – warm, charming,  gracious as hell, and funny as fuck!

Everyone Wants To Be Me Or Do Me is out now in bookstores and is the must read of the season.

Tom and Lorenzo themselves will be in town on Sunday, February 23 at Macy’s Court of Mall Of America for a book signing starting at 1pm. Be there, Bitter Kittens! And for fuck’s sake, let’s look good at this one people!

Photo Credits: TomandLorenzo.com

Originally Published on 19 February 2013 for l’étoile

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