The self-taught designer and stylist first cut his teeth in the ’80s and ’90s dressing Janet Jackson, Boyz II Men and Lauryn Hill and outfitting MC Hammer for his “2 Legit 2 Quit” video. “When you come from making clothes for stars, you can’t give it up, which is why I like working with Panic!,” Franco tells Billboard in an exclusive interview.
After being introduced to the Las Vegas-bred group through their Nothing Rhymes With Circus tour director — who Franco worked with while styling Fall Out Boy — it was a match made in sartorial heaven. “I just threw a whole bunch of stuff in my bag from working on films like Waterworld and X-Men, made a bunch of sh–, met the boys, and they were like, ‘We love you,’” he recalls. “They were babies, 17 to 20 years old, and I was already in my 30s, but from that point on, I became really close with them and have literally done every single thing with the band and Brendon since.”
How would you describe Brendon’s style?
The thing I love about the band is they’re from Vegas, so they kinda had a Rat Pack vibe with emo elements to them. With all groups, it’s the singer who usually has their individual style, and Brendon will wear anything I ask him to. He trusts me, and that’s a big thing; when an artist does not allow their stylist or creative team to help them create an image, a lot of times it looks like it’s forced. Personally, I can’t think of anyone out there with his sense of style. He loves his shiny fabrics, has stage presence, and to me, he’s always been a one-man show. He does take over, and the fans love it, and it’s great.
He seems to be a big fan of colorful and patterned tuxedo jackets, along with high-collar shirts. Is that your influence?
Yeah, the high-collar thing came about when we were doing the “Hallelujah” video, where it’s a play on clergymen in a confessional. Instead of doing the band in collars — which is a direct reference to priesthood — we implemented that element into the shirts by raising the collar up. I love how Karl Lagerfeld dresses with his collars, so that’s what we go for. It gives an emperor’s look as opposed to looking like a preacher.
What about the colorful and patterned tuxedo jackets?
This started around the ‘05 Vaudeville eyeliner emo look, but I began noticing that the clothing started to elevate itself with shine and color. I wasn’t so nervous about it since I knew Brendon could pull it off, but it was also something that nobody at the time was doing, and it sort of came across as really Liberace. To avoid looking like a Vegas lounge singer, his fit had to be perfectly tailored and custom-made. I didn’t want to just throw him in clothing that we had to alter but didn’t work for him. As his stylist, I want to make sure that every time he’s out there performing or on the red carpet, he looks different, but it’s still his style.
Is there a pattern or color Brendon wouldn’t wear?
I don’t know if I would ever put him in plaid. I like textures, and leopard works perfectly for him. I think there is not a color now that we haven’t used. That’s why when we did the Grammy red carpet, we went for a clean slate with the white tux with silver thread in it and a fattened collared shirt (exclusive sketch below). Kind of like [Grammy-nominated best rock album] Death of a Bachelor, where a bride wears white. We flew in the shiny fabric from London, and I made the full look (tux, pant and shirt) within a week, because I have his pattern down perfectly. That’s fast for us, but with him, I don’t like to do things with too much of a lead time because we’re so creative we might change our minds. His fans love him, and it’s nice when they get in really close and can spot a new detail within that look.
What influences Brendon’s style the most: comfortability or design interest?
Since he’s an active performer, his pants have a little stretch in them, and his shoes have to be super comfortable. But up top, he will wear anything. I also have to be aware of sweating because he’s performing, so I will never use wool. He’ll start the show looking head-to-toe perfect and will start stripping stuff off, and before you know it, he ends up shirtless. [Laughs] For him, I think it’s really about a full look at the beginning, and then he’ll sort of taper down to get himself into it. For the red carpet, he wants to look perfect from head-to-toe.
When it comes to fashion, what excites Brendon?
He’s interesting because we know it’s the element of dress-up, and he knows that people love him for his music and his clothing. He gets inspired by fashion and is not an off-the-rack kind of guy. Brendon will never follow a designer just because everyone else is following a trend. It’s dress-up, but it’s not a costume nor gimmicky.
How do you keep it from looking gimmicky?
The good thing is, with well-made clothing; it never looks cheap. And we put a lot into making sure the fit of the fabric and details are expensive, a.k.a. well-thought-out and -executed.
When he’s not performing, what does Brendon gravitate towards?
He’s all casual. Jeans, T-shirt, a hoodie and Adidas sneakers. He is straight-up comfort.
Even at nighttime?
Oh yeah, he would never dress up to go to dinners and stuff like that. That persona of him is strictly onstage.
What is your most memorable styling moment with Brendon?
His light-blue jacket with leopard T-shirt from his last tour. A couple, who met at a Panic! concert and eventually got married, sent a photo of their baby dressed up for Halloween in a leopard shirt and blue onesie jacket over it. It was so damn cute, and when fans start re-creating his looks, it’s flattering for us. The most incredible moment was when Brendon met President Obama after performing at the Kennedy Center Honors in a gorgeous bronze tuxedo, which we custom designed. It photographed beautifully, and I felt so proud to see my work on him while meeting the president.