PGN: Hmmm, I’m not used to doing two people at once. This is going to be tricky.
TF: I’m not touching that line.
PGN: [Laughs.] Bad! Just for that, I’m starting with Lorenzo. Where do you hail from?
LM: I’m actually from Brazil. I’ve been here for about 18 years now.
LM: He always corrects me, I’m bad with dates. My background is in music. I played the violin and the harpsichord for a long time before I got bored with it. I came here to teach until I got tired of that too. And I love languages. I speak several and got into translating for a while until we decided to create a website and do our own thing.
PGN: What languages do you speak?
LM: Well, my native language, Portuguese, plus Spanish, French, Italian, German and, of course, English.
PGN: Does it drive you crazy when people assume Spanish is your native language?
LM: Yes, yes! Especially with my last name, people just assume I speak Spanish, which I do, but it’s not my culture; I just learned it because my harpsichord teacher was from Argentina and she couldn’t speak Portuguese so I had to learn Spanish to understand what the hell she was saying.
PGN: What did you teach?
LM: It was a business/culture program at Penn. I loved teaching, and the students loved my class, but I’m not suited for office politics or a business environment.
PGN: Were you always interested in fashion?
LM: Yes, I was a stylist and a personal shopper for a long time in Brazil and worked in the fashion industry for a while.
PGN: What jobs haven’t you done?
LM: I know. Looking back, I wish I’d stuck with some of them, but then I wouldn’t have what I have now and I love it. I do miss music, though. My whole family played music. People think that from Brazil, we’re all Catholics, but we were Protestant. My grandfather conducted a church choir and everyone played something.
PGN: What was coming out like?
LM: Being from Latin America, it was tough. Everyone kind of knows, but you don’t talk about it. My mother figured it out and told me it was OK, my father had a harder time with it, but they now both accept it. It’s still not a subject we would really discuss openly, though. I remember having dinner with Tom’s parents the first time and everyone talking about when he came out and all sorts of gay topics and it was so foreign to me! Part of me wanted to tug his arm, “Oh my God! You’re not supposed to talk about that with family! You’re embarrassing me!” [Laughs.] I really had to get used to it.
PGN: So let’s find out more about you, Tom and your familia.
TF: I was born in New York, and when I was a year old, my parents moved to Levittown. We lived there until I was about 12 and then we moved into Philadelphia. They tell the story that they took us on a trip to Philly one day and my siblings and I — there were six of us — did not know how to cross a city street. As two New Yorkers, they looked at eachother and said, “These are not the kids we want to raise.” Levittown was so lily- white, I’d never spoken to a black person until I was 13. It almost seems insane to me now, but that’s how segregated it was back then. To their tremendous credit, they saw the problem and moved us into the city. It was a hard adjustment for us, especially the older kids who had to leave school and friends, but I’ve thanked them a million times since then. Something like coming out would have been so much harder if we’d been in the ’burbs. What else? I went to Temple University, was a film-school grad. Moved to Los Angeles, worked for about a year on very, very low-budget, shitty films. Hated, hated Los Angeles. It’s a lovely city if that’s your thing, but it just wasn’t my world. Came back and did a little more film work. The last thing I worked on was “Philadelphia” with Tom Hanks. By the end of the shoot, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had a knack for proofreading, so I did that and moved my way up the corporate ladder until I became a copy editor. From there, I got into advertising and found myself as an account exec in an advertising agency, a job I was ill-suited for. It’s the one thing Lorenzo and I have in common: We have very little tolerance for office politics. At that point we were in our late 30s and realized that we weren’t happy in our jobs.
PGN: Is that when you started the site?
TF: Yes, we thought, Let’s just go for it! We didn’t think it was going to make money or become a career, it was just something we loved. In fact, the first four years, we didn’t make any money and weren’t looking to, but then we were putting so much time and effort in, we realized we needed to figure out a way to make money from it or we’d have to put a stop to it and work on our careers. We figured out a way, and here we are!
PGN: What year was that?
LM: 2006. We were smart enough to combine our strengths. I wanted a site about fashion, celebrities and pop culture, and Tom added the television and movie-critic component.
TF: We tell people tomandlorenzo.com is about whatever interests Tom and Lorenzo. People try to get us to cover other things, but we find that our formula works best for us. Our quirky tastes and take on things is what people like; no need to move away from that.
PGN: Any hobbies outside of work?
TF: I still read comic books. I’ve read them since I was 8. I was a nerd before it became cool and it still informs my life. Once you’ve been a nerd, it gets ingrained in your system. I understand nerd culture.
PGN: So I’ll assume you were the author of the “Doctor Who” blog I read.
LM: Yes! He’s the huge “Doctor” fan. I just come along for the ride. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for much outside of our work. We like to travel and do cultural things like museums when we have time.
PGN: How/when did you two meet?
TF: In 1996 at Bally’s at 15th and Walnut. We’d been eyeing each other in the gym but never did anything about it. It depends on who’s telling the story but I say I walked up to him at the triceps machine and asked if I could work it ... [laughs] and I’ve been working it in ever since!
LM: Yes, and I immediately asked you on a date. And he turned me down! I was like, “Oh, check him out!”
TF: I had a blind date with someone who showed up dressed as Cher! He turned out to be a Cher impersonator but he really didn’t need to show up in full regalia — there was not a second date. I wound up with Lorenzo a day or two later and we hit it off immediately. We were sharing “I love you’s” in two weeks, not something I’d usually advise, but it worked for us. We were both in our 30s and had done our share of running around and were looking for someone to share a life with. I don’t believe in “the one” — I think it’s a horrible concept that puts too much pressure on people — but I knew this was someone I could build a life with.
LM: And I felt the same way. I always wanted to have a life partner. It was a goal of mine and here we are 17 years later.
PGN: Are you married?
LM: Yes! In July in New York.
TF: We just had a reception here two weeks ago to celebrate. Going back to coming out, I didn’t come out until I was 28. I wasn’t a virgin and had done my share of slutting around but hadn’t come out to family and friends. When I did, I told my friends — and most of them were straight — that I was on a hunt. My feeling was now that I was fully out, I wanted to do it right, to build a life for myself that included a life partner.
PGN: And now you have a hubby! Tell me a little more about the website.
TF: Well, our initial site was all about “Project Runway.” We were huge fans of the show and, believe it or not, no one was writing about the show. This was in 2006 when “Project Runway” was super hot, on all the magazine covers, so when we put up the site “Project RunGay” we got an audience like that [snaps fingers]. Overnight. We were so lucky. After a while, people were asking what else we were going to cover, so we started doing a lot of red-carpet coverage and general fashion, which Lorenzo, being the fashion guy, took care of, while I did TV and film coverage. So it’s a full-service fashion, celebrity pop-culture website. It is not a gossip site in the Perez Hilton mode.
LM: It’s the site to go to to read what someone thought about what a celebrity wore the day before or an episode of “Mad Men” or “Glee” ...
TF: Our voice has always been the gay best friend in the cubicle next to you who you can’t wait to dish with the next morning. That gay friend who knows the names of all the celebrities, who knows the names of all the designers and has an opinion on all of it.
PGN: I read several of the posts and they were really fun and witty. I’m a fan.
TF: Yes, we’ve worked very hard to be opinionated and fun, and we even will use the word “bitchy” but we don’t get nasty. We try hard not to cross certain lines. We do a lot of red-carpet coverage and it’s never about criticizing the person, just the clothes, how the person is wearing them. We have very strict rules: You can poke fun at the fashion, but don’t make fun of the body in the clothes. Talk about the changeables — hair, makeup, the jewelry, the dress — but if it’s not something someone can change on the spot, don’t mention it. We’re very strict about that. Even in our comments section, we don’t want to be the kind of site where you would feel bad reading it. There are a lot of people out there making a living being nasty queens. More power to them, but it’s not who we are.
PGN: One of my first thoughts looking at the site was wondering how you got such great photos and how you knew every detail of what the celebs were wearing?
TF: We pay for it!
LM: The pictures are licensed and we pay a monthly fee to use them. People love the visuals, the picture choices we make. We try not to go to too many things in person because we want to keep a separation between us and the people we cover. We have some celebrities who follow us, but we don’t tweet them or try to contact them.
TF: Other bloggers make the mistake of trying to befriend the celebs they’re writing about and it ruins their voice.
LM: As far as the details go, it’s a combination. I already knew quite a bit about fashion and often can look at something and know who designed it. But we also go to all the fashion shows in New York, so we see most of the dresses on the runway. I have a pretty good memory, so I can see it months later on someone and remember the details. We’re also at the point now that our site is so popular that designers and PR people send us emails, “So and so will be wearing... ” and they give us all the info, down to the bag and shoes. Our readers love that. They’ll watch the Oscars and then come to our site to learn all about what they’ve just seen. One thing that a lot of people tell us is that they’ve learned how to dress from our site, because we will comment on what’s new, what works and doesn’t work, so they’ll go shopping and think, Hmmnm what would Tom and Lorenzo think about this?
TF: And it’s funny because people will meet us and think, Oh my God, I hope I look OK, but we don’t judge people in real life. We judge celebrities who have squads of people dressing them in $50,000 worth of borrowed goods. If you can’t get it right after all that, we’re going to talk about it!
PGN: I noticed that a number of the comments were pretty witty retorts. Ever get jealous when your readers have a better zinger?
TF: We love it! We encourage it.
LM: The site is designed to be a group of people getting together around the proverbial water cooler and talking about things. So the comment section is a big part of our site.
TF: We’re deeply proud of ii and we get a lot of compliments about our comment section. As I’m sure you know, a lot of comment sections on the Internet are just the pits. We take an active hand in moderating ours and weed out the people who are saying stupid shit or causing problems — arguing and bullying or making racist comments or homophobic comments. We have no tolerance for that. Out you go. And what you’re left with is people who want to have a fun conversation.
LM: But it’s a full-time job, depending on the subject. When you write about certain subjects, people who aren’t regulars will come to your site and try to post comments.
TF: It’s horrible what some people will post. If we put up a picture of Michelle Obama, you can’t leave the house. You MUST stay by the computer and delete, delete. It would turn your stomach. I’ve had people from other sites tell me I was crazy to post her pictures because of that and at first I thought, This is too much work. But then I became defiant and said, “I’m not going to let some racist assholes prevent me from writing about what I want to write about.”
LM: And it happens when you write about TV shows people are passionate about.
TF: Oh, if I post something about “Doctor Who,” the nerd rage is an awesome thing to behold! Dripping with condescension. It can be funny. But in order to have the site we want, we have to teach them to express thoughts without vitriol or out they go too.
LM: We get about 200,000 views a day so you’re not going to please everyone, but we can try to keep it civil.
PGN: Tell me about your book.
TF: It’s called “Everybody Wants To Be Me Or Do Me: Tom and Lorenzo’s Fabulous and Opinionated Guide to Life and Style.” It arose from our unique take on celebrity culture, which started way before the website, back when we’d sit on the couch and talk about celebrities. About how despite what US magazine says, they’re not just like us. We shouldn’t be looking to them for advice on raising children or heath issues, but we can look to them for the ability to tell their own story, for the ways in which they fiercely promote themselves to the world in the face of any negativity. They just stride through the world with this nuclear level of self-confidence; it’s given to them by an army of people who tell them how great they are, but our posit is that you should look in the mirror and do it for yourself. Each chapter has a different affirmation. The chapters mirror the life cycle of a celebrity from “working on your craft” to “Chernobyl- sized meltdowns” to “Lifetime Achievement Award” and apply it for our readers. Next time you have a job interview that doesn’t go well, learn how celebs deal with flops and just go on to the next thing as if nothing happened. We have a whole chapter on that. It’s a very funny, slightly bitchy take on celebrity culture that you can actually learn life lessons from. And just perhaps create the life you want for yourself.
For more information, visit tomandlorenzo.com.
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