Tan France Talks 'Queer Eye,' LeBron James' Fashion Choices and Onscreen Representation
On his fast track to stardom: "It's just insane."
It's been five months since Netflix released its Queer Eye reboot, and already the show's fashion expert, Tan France, feels shocked to be living like Julia Roberts in Notting Hill.
"How the heck did this all happen and what does it feel like when you've become weirdly recognizable?" he says of his newfound fame that has him talking about "everything, not just clothes." Queer Eye received an Emmy nomination Thursday for best structured reality program.
France, a member of the Fab Five that gives people makeovers (or makebetters) on the show, has become a role model (though he would humbly "never ever" call himself that) like the ones he needed growing up. "To be an American immigrant of British Middle Eastern descent; I'm gay; I think it's amazing that they've allowed me on TV, and I'm treated as if I'm just like everybody else — because I am," France tells The Hollywood Reporter.
He almost backtracked his original "yes" to starring in the Netflix hit, whose second season premiered in June, because of the "overwhelming pressure." He adds, "I'm not the first Middle Eastern person on TV, I'm not the first British person on TV, I'm not the first gay person on TV, but encompassing all of those things and having it on such a large global format, there's a lot of pressure and I still feel it every day."
France, a menswear visionary at age 35, talked with THR before Emmy nominations about how the show champions diversity, LeBron James' killer courtside style and France's favorite current fashion trends (hint: He's feeling cowboys, y'all).
Right now you're partnering with Men's Wearhouse Suit Drive to give professional attire to unemployed individuals. Why was this cause important to you?
They are taking donations for people across the U.S. at their Men's Wearhouse stores. It doesn't necessarily have to be suits; it can be any kind of gently used professional attire. So it could be a tie, a belt, a pocket square, and they're also taking donations from women, too. They will then assign those products to 150 local nonprofits to distribute them to people who need to get back into the workplace and don't have an appropriate wardrobe to help them do so.
The reason why it's so important to me is that it's basically an extension of what I do on the show. I'm trying to encourage people to dress a certain way to better themselves, to better their lives. So for me, this couldn't be a more perfect marriage. ... I knew I wanted to be involved. It was the easiest yes I've said. There are so many Americans who are not in the workforce that want to be, and it's because they don't have access to the tools they need to get the jobs they want.
Speaking of the show, what do you most love about Queer Eye, two seasons later?
The thing that I love about being on the show is that first and foremost I get to play with my boys every day. I love them so much. I can't believe that I have a job where I just get to have fun with four idiots who have become my best friends. It feels weird to call that my job, but I love it.
And what drew me to the show initially was I loved that it was going to be different from the original version of the show. I loved that we were going to be with people in different demographics, where it wasn't just liberals we were helping anymore. I wanted to be able to have open conversations with people who weren't like me, who had never met somebody like me, and to be able to effect change in their life, to open up a dialogue that they'd never had before and to say, "Let's meet in the middle, let's have a conversation, let's talk very openly about what your views are, what my views are, about everything, not just clothes."
Do you have any updates on season three?
With season one, we didn't find out if we were going to get season two until I think nine or 10 weeks later. Netflix waits to see what data they gather and how successful the show is before they move forward with an announcement. We believe that season two is doing incredibly well based on how social media has responded to us. So we feel hopeful; I don't want to say "confident."
What would you like to see on season three if it happens?
If we are lucky enough to get season three, I just think let's do more of the same. I like already that we are already a very diverse show, whether it be in the cast or our heroes that we help. I want to continue on with that. I want to be able to help more under-represented communities that don't have a spotlight on them, that don't have the visibility that they need.
Growing up, was that something you wanted to find on television?
Heck yeah! I've never seen a show like this. There was Will & Grace and there was the original Queer Eye, which came out when I was like 20, so there was nothing else really when I was a kid that represented me the way I felt like I needed to be represented that would encourage me to be my authentic self.
Even with such shows like Queer Eye and Will & Grace when I was in my early 20s, there were no Middle Eastern people. I'm just going to say it as it is. We weren't talking about immigration and we weren't seeing immigrants, so to be an American immigrant of British Middle Eastern descent, I'm gay, I think it's amazing that they've allowed me on TV and I'm treated as if I'm just like everybody else, because I am. And it makes sense that I'm represented just as much as everybody else on that cast.
Do you feel a responsibility to fans that are now looking up to you?
Yes, that is partly why I didn't think I wanted the job when I was first offered it and why I was really nervous to say yes. I said yes initially, and then I was going to backtrack and my lovely husband encouraged me to stick with it, because the pressure just felt overwhelming. Being the first in any situation is always incredibly hard, and I'm not the first Middle Eastern person on TV, I'm not the first British person on TV, I'm not the first gay person on TV, but encompassing all of those things and having it on such a large global format, there's a lot of pressure and I still feel it every day. So I'm very careful about what I say. In interviews, I'm usually one of the quieter ones. I like to make sure the answer I'm giving is informed, it's thought out, it's very direct and deliberate and pointed.
I would never ever say that I was a role model. ... That makes me uncomfortable because I don't want that pressure. That pressure is stifling and overwhelming, but I know some people do see me as that and therefore I don't want to speak out of turn and I don't want to say anything that I don't truly stand by.
What do you to do be conscious of that?
I try to take a beat to really think about what my answer is going to be. At first when I started doing that, it was strange for me, because I'm usually very strong-willed and I've always got an opinion.
Of my castmates and my closest friends, I'm the only one who lives in Salt Lake City. I don't live in a coastal city. And so I have a diverse group of friends who have a different perspective than me and I love that they're able to weigh in and give me advice. ... Living in Utah has really given me a different perspective, so not only am I the Middle Eastern British guy, I'm also the guy that lives in a very Republican state.
I think it's great to have all of those things in my arsenal, to be able to use that to really bridge these divides. I think I'm probably one of the most comfortable in any situation we go into in Atlanta [to film] because I know those people, I lived with those people, those are my people.
What are your top three favorite menswear trends right now?
I love the Western trend, like the cowboy trend I think is awesome. It slips into costume way too easily, so just be mindful. I love oversized street wear. I think that is a trend that's going to stay around. For example, sweatpants as regular clothing, not just for around the house, but if it's well-fitted sweatpants with an oversized top, I think it will look cool and super stylish. And finally, the return of corduroy. I'm all about it. Let's not go crazy, let's not wear head to toe corduroy, but I do just love an injection of corduroy. I wore a corduroy jacket in the final episode of season one, and I'm still obsessed with that jacket.
Would you wear a Thom Browne shorts suit like LeBron James?
OK, I'm obsessed with what LeBron James is doing right now. I love that he's pushing the boundaries when it comes to fashion, especially with the super macho straight dudes. He's showing that you can be interested in fashion, that you can experiment with style. I am all about it, and I've been wearing Thom Browne a lot this season. I think that what he's doing for men's suiting is revolutionary, and I hope that more straight men get behind it, because it's an easier way to transition into style, because it's just another way of looking at suiting. It's familiar, but it's pushing yourself a little further.
However, I will add, Russell Westbrook, his fashion moments are freaking incredible. I think LeBron James gets more attention because he's LeBron James, but that Russell, he is impressive. I love his style. I have no idea how good he is at sports.
Would you ever design another line or which designers would you want to collaborate with?
I'm hoping that within the next few years I'll do some collaborations. I don't think I'd do my own clothing brand again. I was retiring just before the show came out and then I got a call, and they asked if I would not retire and come and work on a show called Queer Eye. I got a second career. I love designing; however, I would never want the pressure of running a company again, especially not the operational side. I would happily design for another brand, if it was a capsule collection, or some kind of collaboration, but just not my own company.
Do you have any dream partners or brands?
I love so many. My top would be Off-White, Yeezy, Sandro, Khas.
And you're also working on a memoir. What will that focus on?
So I can't give too much away, other than the story really hasn't been told — how you go from South Yorkshire, England, to whatever the heck we're calling this that I'm in. It's just insane. Have you seen that movie Notting Hill, where you get a glimpse into what it's like for the likes of Julia Roberts? Where did that come from? Like I want to know all about it. It's a memoir talking about how life was when I was younger, but how the heck did this all happen and what does it feel like when you've become weirdly recognizable everywhere you go?
What does it feel like?
Shocking, even today. It's only been four and half months. I know that I'll feel differently maybe in a few months, but it still feels like the first day every day. I know it sounds stupid, but you forget when you're doing your day-to-day chores, and then somebody will gasp next to you and seems to have a full-on meltdown, and you're like "Oh, shit, yeah, I can't just fly under the radar anymore." People know, especially because I don't look like anybody else, especially in the places where I live or where I'm traveling to. No matter how much I try and disguise myself, you always know it's me. That's a very strange feeling.
Looking forward, what changes would you like to see in the fashion industry and the television industry?
Fashion industry, more diversity, more diversity, more diversity. And TV, same thing. I think in every industry. On our show, we promote diversity in every way possible, and we will continue to do so more and more and more. And not just with ethnic diversity, with body diversity, with the things that we're willing to talk about. Let's encourage people to accept us all. ... I love that we are opening up a conversation on such a large scale.