Tan France is the real life fairy godfather whose makeovers lit up our small screens since 2018. France’s polished approach to fashion takes him to the front and center as well as being behind the scenes. While Queer Eye establishes his name to the forefront, France is no overnight success. Since 2011, he has been designing his swimwear line Kingdom & State, which features a modest yet fashion forward approach to womenswear.
Returning to the screens with Next In Fashion, it takes him behind the scenes to mentor emerging designers who, like France, have graduated from working with the creme de la creme of the fashion world. Alongside co-host Alexa Chung, they also invite guest judges Prabal Gurung, Philip Lim, Monique Lhullier and Pyer Moss to critique each designer. As Netflix’s first fashion competition, Next In Fashion is a fun, yet thrilling reality show that will make us grab our popcorn.
We catch up with Tan to discuss about making it in the fashion industry, the most life-changing event he’s faced while filming Queer Eye, why sustainable design is the future in fashion and what it’s like to really be behind the scenes for Next In Fashion.
ELLE Singapore: Since your childhood, you’ve always had an interest in fashion. Why do you connect to it and how has fashion empowered you?
Tan France: Yes, I’ve always been interested fashion. The reason why I got into it so strongly was it gave me access to a world that was not my own. I lived in a very modest home where western clothing wasn’t encouraged so designing and aspiring to work in design gave me the opportunity to play with the western culture like I never was able to in my home.
Prior to Queer Eye, you launched your own brand Kingdom & State, a swimwear brand for women. Why did you choose to launch your design career in swimwear and what lessons did you pick up along the way?
TF: I wanted to design swimwear but that actually wasn’t the key point of my business. I started out in women’s clothing with Kingdom & State, swimwear was just one part of that brand. The reason why I think it did so well was because there weren’t many modest options available in the local and US market, so that’s why I think it was successful. What did I learn along the way? That catering to a niche market can actually prove to be the most successful as opposed to trying to do something that works for everybody and in turn it doesn’t really work for anyone because you can’t compete with the major players.
For the past two years since you were in Queer Eye, we’ve seen you put your magic touch in making over people’s closets and lives regardless of background, gender or country. Between 2018 to now, what was the biggest life-changing moment that you encountered while filming the series?
TF: There wasn’t one pivotal moment really, it was just the everyday process of helping our heroes being reminded that just because somebody is from a different political party, just because somebody is part of a certain community doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground, that we can’t find friendship. And so working with strangers, working with people I normally wouldn’t have associated with has really opened my mind to who I can connect with and how the world can connect as opposed to being divided just because of what we think defines us.
Usually, Queer Eye would be filmed in the States, but recently, you and your cast mates were in Japan. Though it’s so culturally different from the States, what were some differences and similarities between the US and Japan?
TF: The differences are the fact that they are so emotionally closed off compared to the West and that’s what made it a very interesting season is that we were able to unlock some of their emotion and hear a perspective that we would so rarely get to hear in the words from the Japanese culture and the Japanese community. And what similarities? Simple: we all just want to be loved.
We honestly cannot wait for another season! This time, where will you be and what are some things that we can expect for season 5?
TF: We are in Philadelphia for season 5. You will hopefully enjoy the show as much as every other season, but it is a little more diverse this season, the Philadelphia community is a little less like the Southern communities and the Midwestern communities that are a lot more open. The Philadelphia people aren’t as open to articulating their concerns so that was the major difference, but this season is just as exciting as any other season, if not one of the best ones yet.
Who are your favourite designers and why have they inspired you?
TF: I’ve had some of the same favorite designers for quite some time. Louis Vuitton has always been wonderful, I think that they do a really good job of switching it up every season to make it a really unique offering. But companies like MONSE I think are fantastic, they’re relatively new but they offer something quite unique and you always know a MONSE piece. Oscar de la Renta is a classic and always pulls out something that I think is just beautiful. Some of the more contemporary designers that I really appreciate- Alexander Wang, I’m obsessed with street wear and I think the line is just wonderful.
What are some trends that we can include to step up our fashion game in 2020?
TF: Leopard print is back in a major way, especially for men. If you want to tone it down, wear it under something, layer it. For women—tailoring. It’s not going away anytime soon. A lot of structured suiting, a lot of pastels.
Congratulations on your new Netflix series, Next in Fashion! How did the project come into fruition and what do you hope to achieve with this series?
TF: What we hope to achieve with the series is something incredibly fun and entertaining, first and foremost. We want people to see the behind-the-scenes of what REAL designers go through. These are established designers from across the globe, 18 of them. They have come from the likes of Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton, Alexander Wang, or they have their own very successful brands. These are not new designers and so the audience gets to see what it really takes to create a garment and why they are spending more on a designer piece as opposed to fast fashion. And it’s just bloody fantastic, it’s such a fun ride, highly entertaining and the finale is next level.
What were the challenges you had to overcome while shooting this series and do you have a favourite episode?
TF: My favourite episode is definitely the finale, I think that the two final collections are world class, especially considering that their whole collections were achieved in less than 3 days. That shows the skill level of our designers. What was a challenge? Quite honestly, hosting a traditional style show, I am one of the five hosts of Queer Eye but that’s a really different hosting job to this. It was actually incredibly difficult to work through a script, remember a script, make it your own.
And eliminating people, it’s so painful to do. I’ve built my brand on nurturing people and being kind and championing their success and so it’s hard to let people go each week. However, this is a design competition show, it’s unavoidable.
Next In Fashion deals with contestants who want to break into the luxury market. What are the key differences that designers need to know when entering this sector of the industry?
TF: Just to clarify, they’re not trying to break in to the luxury market, they are already IN the luxury market and have been, they’re just not household names yet. What is important to know for this market/sector? This is real art, this is craft. It takes a high level of skill. The price point doesn’t make something luxury, it’s the amount of work that goes into it that makes it luxury.
What changes in the fashion industry do you hope to see with Next In Fashion?
TF: We talk about sustainability a lot on our show. A lot of our designers are pushing forward sustainable design. I think that if you are NOT considering sustainability in your design in this day and age as a brand, you are not the future of fashion. That’s something that we really are pushing with this show and I highly respect that our designers are pushing for that.