For Tan France, Queer Eye is about more than making things pretty

The unofficial ambassador of the French Tuck on representation, that Frasier moment, and his own style evolution.

July 06, 2018
For Tan France, <i>Queer Eye</i> is about more than making things pretty Artwork by Aimee Cliff

Tan France actually has a fairly relaxed day ahead of him, and it’s a welcomed change of pace. As the resident fashion expert on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye, France’s life has become swept into a whirlwind of press days, events, travel and subsequent jet lag, and shooting — and after the explosive success of the first two seasons, there’s no end in sight.

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Despite the demands of his schedule, France bursts with an effervescence that’s tangible even through the phone, especially when we speak late last month. His buoyant and understanding nature is part of the reason Queer Eye has so much heart, and why each episode’s Hero, (the makeover subject) takes so well to France’s styling guidance. His presence on the show is incredibly nuanced, too — when was the last time you saw a gay, Muslim, Middle Eastern man get screen time on TV?

As France rescues the series’s Heroes from the throes of sartorial tragedy with his go-to styling trick, the French Tuck, he does it while staying true to his unique experiences as a gay man. He’s been vocal about how he’s not as immersed in the LGBTQ+ culture as his fellow castmates, and for France, it just means another opportunity to grow and reach different people. “I’m glad that I didn’t pretend that I knew everything about our community and had been immersed in it my whole life,” he explains. “I love that we’re able to represent many different versions of gay men on this show.” There’s power in nuance, and France is making the most of it.

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One of my favorite moments on this season was the look of horror on your face as you were receding into the closet after the Hero said Frasier was his style icon. What was going through your head when that happened?

We shot this over a year ago so I don’t know the exact thought that was going through my head. However I do remember thinking, “Oh shit, I don’t know if I can help him look like Frasier because I’m not willing to let him look like Frasier.” I think all that was going on through my head was What happened? What happened to you where you thought Frasier was stylish? What happened in your life that made you think this is okay?

How do you handle those moments in which someone’s ideal is so far removed from your idea of style and reality?

First and foremost in those moments, you recoil and retreat into a closet, and when you compose yourself, I try and find a version in my head where it’s like if Frasier Crane went shopping one day and it’s still him, but he wants to dress for a date, what would he go for? And then elevate that even further. I still try to tailor what they’re asking for, I just try to do the best version of that guy. So Frasier Crane wasn’t stylish, he was never known for being stylish, but I imagine he would be in a button down because he’s always in a button down, he would be in a blazer because he’s always in a blazer. What would he wear on a weekend date? Would he wear those hideous pants still? No, he’d wear a pair of jeans in this day and age. Do you remember the scene where [the hero] is in a green blazer and a pair jeans and a pair of boots? I see Frasier in that! Like the sexiest version of Frasier would wear that if he were 35 [years old] in 2018.

It’s as if the show was relaunching and you’re modernizing its essence.

Exactly. And also don’t ruin your own reputation by going by what Frasier wants, do it your way.

I listened to your episode on Jonathan Van Ness’s podcast Getting Curious and when you spoke about your childhood, I was imagining you being this adorable child in a cute UK school uniform with the babiest french tuck. Am I right on this?

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[Laughs] Here’s the thing, I definitely had uniforms, but I didn’t start doing the french tuck until I was probably 17 or 18.

How did you get into it?

I was always a really skinny child and I’d wear oversized things to give the illusion that I wasn’t as tiny as I was, but it just looked like a sack and I looked really short. So I thought if I tucked my shirt in at the front, you’d at least notice that I have relatively long legs to balance it out. I don’t know how I really knew this, but in this young age, I knew how important proportion was and if I made one slight adjustment to what I was wearing you could tell — you would get the illusion that I was taller or more lean or whatever I was going for. I love [the French tuck], I think it looks great. People may disagree, but I walk out on the streets of New York, even this morning, and I saw so many French tucks, and so many people stopped me to say “I’m doing the French tuck!”

I can’t believe how quickly it caught on. Karamo said during on of the episodes, “You’re going to have the whole world doing the French tuck.” He called it the Tan France tuck. It’s nuts how many people from all around the world are sending me pictures of their French tuck. I get around 1,200 DMs a day and at least 300 to 400 of those are people sending me pictures of their French tuck.

For Tan France, <i>Queer Eye</i> is about more than making things pretty Artwork by Aimee Cliff

You’re the unofficial ambassador of the French Tuck. I feel like we’re never going to be able to separate your name from it.

I know! The funny thing is people ask if I call it the French Tuck because my name is Tan France, and it’s like no, the French tuck has been a thing for a very, very long time. I can’t take credit for that.

Well, you’ve propelled it into pop culture and men are better off for it.

Actually can I tell you one of the people who really encouraged me to do it — I don’t know her personally — was Jenna Lyons. She’s the chicest chick in the game. She was the one who always did it, and I thought if it’s good enough for her, I’m going to continue on.

Was there anyone or anything that influenced your style growing up?

There was a magazine when I was a teenager, and it was so long ago I can’t remember the name. I couldn’t afford magazines — we didn’t have a lot of money — so I would go to the library in my school, and they would have this fashion magazine there, and I was obsessed with it. Every month I would go and the librarian knew to keep it on hold for me because I was the only person in the school who would ever ask for it. I would try to find looks I could rip off. I could sew, so I would buy fabric from the store and try to recreate it, or I would change little things that I had that could be comparable. I would adjust them, alter them, add the embellishments they had on the runway. I started doing that on my days off when I was maybe 13 or 14, when I entered high school. I’ve been inspired by runways for the longest time.

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What was it about runways that spoke to you?

This is probably deeper than you want to go, but there weren’t that many people who looked like me on TV. Actually, I don’t remember seeing anyone who looked like me on TV. I think if I were Caucasian, I would have had a lot more inspiration. I always thought about how the coloring wasn’t my coloring, the hair wasn’t my hair — so I used the runway which was a lot more diverse.

That also ties into why you’re so important on Queer Eye. To see a gay, Middle Eastern, Muslim man is major.

I think it’s important that we have representation across the board on TV. It seems kind of stupid that it’s gotten to 2018 and there hasn’t been somebody like me on TV. I racked my brain for years now over why there hadn’t been a gay Middle Eastern guy on TV. There’s no excusable reason.

I love seeing the moments on the show during which your culture pops out, like when you jumped in to cook that South Asian appetizer and you knew Arian’s mom was seconds away from beating his ass over not graduating college.

[Laughs] I didn’t want to suppress those moments, and I’m glad they made those a point during the editing. I don’t want to whitewash myself during the show. I am still very much Middle Eastern, I’m very cultural. I loved that they showed that. I don’t know if you remember from Season One with the guy called Neal Reddy…

The one where you wore the traditional Indian clothes and you all danced?

Yeah! Never in a million years did I think that a scene like that, an episode like that would have made it to TV, especially in India. I know it’s an episode that’s doing well out there by the response I get from Indians in my DMs. They’re like, “This is insane that you guys got away with showing this on TV!” The amount of movies that have [historically] been banned in India and Pakistan which show good relations between India and Pakistan… the fact that we got away with it is amazing.

That’s really massive. How does it feel knowing that the things that happen on Queer Eye are transcending the queer community on this global scale?

Oh, it’s so powerful. I’m so overwhelmed by all that I’ve experienced over the past four or five months. But that in particular feels so powerful — to think that this isn’t just a show where we’re making things pretty. We are hopefully effecting change, even in the smallest way. I’m praying that we get more and more opportunities to do things like that on the show, being able to tackle situations that ordinarily wouldn’t make it on TV. I think it’s a very important part of the show. I never went on the show to just makes things pretty — I wanted it to be so much more, and I’m glad that it is so much more.

“I never went on the show to just makes things pretty — I wanted it to be so much more, and I’m glad that it is so much more.”
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In this season, you met a trans person for the first time, and you’ve mentioned throughout the series that you’re not as connected to the LGBTQ+ community as the rest of the Queer Eye boys are. How has that shifted since the show aired and you’re now on a very public platform?

The outpouring of love from the LGBTQIA community has been amazing because there are so many people in the same situation as me — they live in the non-coastal states, they live in the non-major cities so they have similar experiences as me. I’m glad that I didn’t pretend that I knew everything about our community and had been immersed in it my whole life. I love that we’re able to represent many different versions of gay men on this show. When we finally have time off, I’m hoping that I’ll have the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture in our community even more so.

Also, a big part of gay culture is going out and socializing in the likes of bars and clubs. Unfortunately, now the show has become a thing, it’s harder to go out in big crowded places. There’s so much love from the community, which is wonderful, however, when you’re on your own it can be a bit overwhelming. I love it, but I don’t think I’m planning on going to a bar or a club in a major city anytime soon because without the support of my boys, it’s a lot for one person.

I want to go back to what you were saying about how not everyone grows up in these major, coastal cities. I think an important part about Queer Eye is that we get to see the many facets of the LGBTQ+ community a lot people most probably didn’t know. Where would you want to see Queer Eye in the future?

I just hope we can continue to do [what we’ve been doing during] the first two seasons and push those boundaries and show that we are just like everybody else, we represent so many different versions of what it is to be gay. I don’t want that to be seen as the key factor of the show. I want it to be that these are five men who are doing everything they can to help as many people across as many different communities as possible. I don’t think this is going to happen in my lifetime, but I would like to get to the point where there’s an ensemble show of another five gay men, but the fact that they’re gay isn’t the focus. It’s about the work that they’re doing.

You grew up in a conservative, tight-knit Pakistani Muslim community and I’m curious if anyone in your family had any influence on your style.

Nobody had a style influence on me in my culture or community. However, the first time I really thought I wanted to do something with fashion and clothing was when my Granddad had a garment factory in the UK and I would go and visit. I thought it was fascinating how you can take a sketch of something and turn it into a piece of something you can physically wear. I thought that it was amazing that he was able to achieve that hundreds of times a day, every day of the week. I really wanted to be a machinist. I didn’t realize that being a fashion designer was thing, I was very young, maybe 7 or 8 years old. As I got older, I realized I could turn it into a career. I was very much inspired.

So from a young age you had an eye for style.

Oh yeah. I used to change many, many times a day depending on the thing I was doing. I would get home and change from my school uniform into something to watch TV, when I knew dinner was going to be ready I would change into another look, and after that I would change into my casual attire to sit around the house. I was always changing. I don’t know why why I felt it was necessary or where I thought I was going or who might see me because we didn’t have very much of a social life, but it was very important to me to be seen in something new every couple of hours.

What’s the cringiest style sin you’ve committed? Something where you think back on it and feel like you’re getting hives at just the thought.

Believe me, when you are in my little world of fashion and style, you go through that point — hopefully when you’re younger — that you try out every trend comes along. You remember those thin rope necklaces with the cross on them from the nineties? I had one of those and it was hideous and I will never wear that again. Mine didn’t have a cross, it was a skull or something even more unattractive. Then on my 21st birthday I wore a Von Dutch cap with a matching Von Dutch t-shirt and Von Dutch jeans and a heinous belt. It was hideous. Hideous!

Was it bedazzled?

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No, thank God it wasn’t. It was even more disgusting. It was green, like an olive green with an orange Von Dutch text on the front of my t-shirt. It was the most hideous color combo and I don’t know why I thought Ooh, this will be my 21st birthday look.

That’s feels like an extremely 21st birthday move to me.

And everyone’s looking at you knowing you’re going to regret this in two weeks. And yes, I did!

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For Tan France, Queer Eye is about more than making things pretty