Some might think it’s enough of an accomplishment to present a 50-piece fall collection of men’s and women’s clothing, complete with tailored suits, red-carpet gowns, leather pieces and knitwear, but not Anthony Franco. He spent his summer designing all the costumes and sets for Toni Braxton’s Las Vegas spectacular, Revealed, which opened earlier this month. And this week, moviegoing audiences and OutKast fans will get an eyeful of more of Franco’s handiwork when his getups for the 1930s musical Idlewild (codesigned with Shawn Barton) are splashed across the big screen.
How does he do it all? “I never sleep. I’m 18, but I look 70,” laughs the 38-year-old Franco. Hands-on as a rule, the designer likes to do all his cutting himself, but he employs André 3000’s tailor, Pae Kim (who has also worked on films like Charlie’s Angels and The Matrix), to make his suits. “That’s a talent,” he nods. “Dressmaking is one thing, but an ill-fitting suit is always going to be an ill-fitting suit.”
And we all know André 3000 doesn’t wear ill-fitting suits. Franco has worked with him and Big Boi for three years, most recently on the brand-new, carnivalesque “Morris Brown” video from Idlewild, which was shot just a few weeks ago. He also was behind the fantastically wacky Native-Americans-from-outer-space “Hey Ya” Grammy performance. As he recalls, it came together in a snap. “André just said, ‘I want it to be Indian, and green.’ He’s got a vision that’s really strong.”
Franco took that concept to his collaborator, Frank Morales, who actually made the headdress and “literally every single costume for OutKast.” Morales has been Franco’s right-hand man since the beginning, and Franco calls him “the master behind my mind. He oversees everything.” That includes the 115 costumes Franco designed for Braxton’s Revealed, which evolves from jazzy Bob Fosse garb to 1930s Hollywood glamour and closes with a runway show. “I had to reach deep into my inner showgirl for this one,” Franco chuckles.
The present moment marks something of a second career in fashion for the third-generation Angeleno, whose grandmother taught him to sew when he was 13. From 1999 to 2000, Franco sold his own designs, including some in leather, from a storefront on Melrose, but there wasn’t enough foot traffic to keep him in business. Luckily, work as a union costumer on TV shows, films and music videos was steady, and he was able to launch his first collection at L.A. Fashion Week one year ago. Franco says he views the costuming as his “job,” while the clothing line is his art.
His Fall 2006 collection is an homage to the gritty ’70s glamour of the Al Pacino film Serpico and The Eyes of Laura Mars, a thriller starring Faye Dunaway as a Helmut Newton–esque photographer in a Halston wardrobe. Garments like a swingy, camel-wool poncho and slit gauchos were plucked straight from Laura Mars’ closet in this fashion-movie classic, while the film’s “sexy murder” vibe (“lots of girls lying on beds in garter belts,” says Franco) also influenced the dark color palette.
Lieutenant Serpico’s makeshift gun holster inspired a clever accessory in the men’s line: the iPod holster. Franco toyed with the idea of an actual gun holster for half a second, but didn’t want to send any kind of profirearms message. “Charlton Heston will be my best friend, but no one else will like me,” he laughs. Definitely a conversation piece, the holster fastens across the chest and comes in brown leather, and leather and python skin.
Part of the Anthony Franco signature is fine craftsmanship and the use of authentic materials. Sweaters and hats are knit by hand, and all the beadwork, including a group of shimmery sequined dresses, is also done by hand. A plummy-brown silk floor-length gown has real python-covered buttons at the cuffs, and men’s belts are crafted from stingrays. Franco also incorporates corsets into many of the red-carpet gowns for better fits. “Nothing bunches or puckers, and it leaves room for dessert,” he smiles.
But just because he dresses some of the biggest names in entertainment and fashion and works with only the most luxurious materials does not mean that Anthony Franco suffers from delusions of grandeur. Unlike some designers, who like to take all the credit, Franco admits that he couldn’t do anything without his team. However, “you have to be able to delegate. You have to be thorough enough that you can walk away.” At the same time, when he’s at his studio in Montclair, he’s working right alongside the sewers. “We’re all in the same hot-ass little shop,” he says. “I don’t get to stroll into my beautiful lacquer showroom . . . Not yet, anyway.”
It appears success has only made the Silver Lake resident more humble and hard-working. “There’s a million other designers that are better than me,” he says with a dismissive wave of the hand, “but if you have all the elements, then you’re able to sell yourself. I try to be a complete package.”
Anthony Franco’s complete ?fall collection is available at anthonyfrancodesigns.com.