In Daniel Franzese’s seasoned career, he’s made his name known as a talented openly gay actor. From Bully to Mean Girls to Looking, we’ve become instant and dedicated fans, consistently ready for more. But his latest endeavor takes him beyond the stage and screen.
The performer has recently become the face and creative director of Winston Box. A monthly subscription-based clothing brand for plus-size men, the collection brings style and function to a niche market. With pieces specifically curated for men overlooked by conventional standards of fashion, Winston Box alleviates the struggle of shopping in an industry that favors often impossible body types.
We recently caught up with Franzese on the rooftop of a friend’s high rise in Midtown Manhattan. With an up-close view of the Empire State Building, we bonded over our common experiences as big boys in the gay community.
As a plus-size gay man, do you ever feel overlooked by the community?
Well at 6’4″ and big and bearded I don’t exactly blend in a crowd. (LAUGHS) I used to feel overlooked, especially younger and dating. There’s definitely the vibe of toxic masculinity surrounding all of our media. The idea that a big guy isn’t masculine (whatever that means) is ridiculous. I know there was a huge uproar a short time ago about guys putting “no fats, no fems, no (insert race here)” on their dating profiles. I know why people were outraged but I prefer someone to let me know they are total loser by posting that before I talk to them. These days, I don’t think I experience being overlooked. Once I learned how to look at myself in a loving and, quite frankly a sexy way, I saw an immediate difference in the way others looked at me.
Have you felt limited by options in the fashion industry?
Everyday. I don’t know why it has been so hard to find certain trends in larger sizes. I can walk through an entire mall with $2000 in my pocket and not find one item of clothing that fits properly. As an adult, I just know not to shop there but as a teen, this crushed me. The only thing I love more than having new clothes is spending money.
How did you get involved with the Winston Box?
My business partner, Wil Cuadros wanted to get a monthly clothing club subscription but was frustrated that none of the current ones offered anything in his size. He decided to start his own with his former colleague, Amit Patel. One day I was halfway through ordering The Winston Box and I knew what a great idea it was. There were definitely clear ways I could bring something to the table with my experience of having clothes made for me for film and television. Randomly, I was also assistant to a pattern maker at a women’s plus-size clothing company in New York for a few years. It was one of many odd jobs I had early on in my acting career but it’s proven really useful in understanding fabrics and how they work. Plus, my mama got hooked up with a few gowns.
What aspects of the line do you find particularly convenient for plus-size men?
It’s a sad truth but if I need a white dress shirt, I need to drive about 25 minutes to get one, and I live in LA. Not every store carries our sizes, so the convenience of it coming right to our door is incredible. I also love a surprise grab bag or mystery box so the fact that you get something fresh and new every month is super fun to me. It’s like sending yourself a surprise gift every month. Treat yo’ self!
How do the models of the Winston Box campaign represent the brand?
Well for starters, every size is represented. A lot of times, in average fashion campaigns or even big-and-tall catalogs, you can purchase extended sizes or large sizes but you can never see a model in them. We have one of the most diverse groups I have ever seen in a campaign. Sizes up to 6XL, athletes, big dudes like me, all age groups and even a female. We have women clients so I wanted to see them represented too. We are probably the first big-and-tall menswear company to feature a woman. Even though we are a menswear brand, we realize clothing has no gender, therefore every one of our members should see themselves represented. We also have burgers for lunch on shoots. I’m sure they never saw that at Milk Studios before.
Is there anything else you hope to do to provide a platform for other plus-size queer people?
The mission here is to pave the way for the youth. Lack of clothing options in stores can be traumatic to a young person. It certainly was to me. Even as an adult, we always have to pay a premium. Anything above XL is an extra $5. We have to pay a premium for the space in the store to even display us. I want our members to know that they aren’t an afterthought. They are who we are thinking about every step of the way. Each garment has exquisite details, and the inside of the garment is focused on inner beauty, both with the lining and patterns hidden in the clothing as well as a secret ‘affirmation tag’ hidden somewhere in the garment that sends a message of love to the wearer. You might turn a t-shirt up in front and it will say something like, ” Wow! What a cute belly!” or ‘You’ll knock ‘em dead, tiger!’ next to a pocket the perfect size of your business cards. We are also removing the term “Extra Large” from our sizing. All our dudes are big. They aren’t extra anything to us except extra sexy. If there is anything I hope to accomplish from this, it would be to let young teens and kids know that the future is bright for them. They can express themselves with style anyway they want. We want to expand on the palette for them to be able to have more choices to do so.
Can you tell me anything about your modeling or the work you’re doing with Bear World?
I have been modeling for years. From movie posters and ads to fun artistic collaborations with friends. My first professional photoshoot ever was with Steven Klein, and my first movie Bully was directed by Larry Clark, so it’s safe to say I have been working a camera one way or another for decades. The idea that plus-size men, or as I like to call us “above average,” are finally becoming en vogue is no surprise to me. It’s soon going to be 2018, and the final frontier of fashion is big men. Everything else has been done before and even plus women have been in and out of style over the years and are so hot right now. It makes total sense it’s our turn. That’s one of the reasons I found it appealing when Bear World Magazine asked me to write my new column. The word “bear” is becoming more mainstream every day and even straight-identifying burly dudes are embracing it. Kevin smith and Seth Rogen love the bear community and do more than have sex as do all LGBTQ people. As the world becomes more knowledgeable to the LGBTQIA+ rainbow, they are realizing not everything is as it seems and not everything is based around sex. Bear World Magazine has the approach towards its contributors that we are the bears so anything we do or are interested in is relevant. Bears are travelers, doctors, architects, designers, comedians and we have voices.
Do you have any other movies or shows coming up?
I currently am in plans to do a college standup tour, and I also filmed a comedy movie called Hypnotized about five people who are hypnotized and the hypnotist has a heart attack and we all get stuck in a trance. My character thinks he is a pregnant woman.
Follow Daniel Franzese at @whatsupdanny and Winston Box at @TheWinstonBox. Use code: danfranfans when signing up for $15 off.