It’s almost 10 a.m. one Thursday in London and Tan France is facing a challenge: a Google Hangouts call with seven media outlets from the Philippines at the same time. “Oh my god, there are so many of you on this call,” he said, laughing.
But it was a challenge the English fashion designer and stylist breezed through with charm, wit and grace, just like he breezes through the challenges he faces on “Queer Eye.” As the show’s fashion expert, Tan does more than just go through people’s wardrobes and choose new pieces of clothing for them—he helps them deal with their insecurities, embrace their bodies, love themselves a little more, build their confidence and get ready for a new chapter in their lives.
But we weren’t on the line to talk about “Queer Eye,” no. Tan was going to tell us about “Next in Fashion,” the new fashion competition show that he hosts with Alexa Chung.
“Next in Fashion,” which began streaming on Netflix on Jan. 29, is not your usual fashion reality show. In fact, Tan said, it’s the anti fashion reality show. “It’s not about producing dramatic scenes, it’s about the craft,” he said, comparing it to The Great British Bake Off. “We’re not trying to be a reality show that’s putting people down. That’s not something I will ever be involved with. ‘Queer Eye’ is about positivity and inclusivity and kindness. I love that that ‘Next In Fashion’ feels like an extension of that.”
Eighteen designers are competing for $250,000 and the chance to debut their collection with Net-a-Porter. They’re experienced designers—they have their own lines, they’ve dressed A-list celebrities, they’ve designed for big brands behind the scenes, they just haven’t gotten the attention they deserve yet. And they’re a pretty diverse group—they come from different backgrounds and different parts of the world: there are American, Scottish, Puerto Rican, Asian and African designers from Mexico, L.A., New York, China, Korea, Canada, India, Italy and the U.K.
“I am a person of color myself,” said Tan who is of Pakistani heritage. “I want to make sure that we are surrounded with as many people of color as possible and that it’s a true representation of our society. Netflix is a global platform and so we wanted to offer a show that would really cater to our audience. I think it makes for a very interesting competition show when it’s not just domestic designers competing against each other. I love that it’s a show that encompasses the entire world so countries could really back their designers.”
Fresh, original, inspiring
He wanted to see something that was fresh, original and inspiring in a way that current brands aren’t inspiring him, Tan said. He wanted fashion that he hadn’t seen before, fashion that hasn’t been on every runway already. And the show’s contestants did not disappoint.
“When I was designing, I definitely wasn’t making an incredible couture creation within a day and a half and I definitely wasn’t making up a collection within two and a half days. They are so highly skilled. I think the greatest thing that they taught me was that their creativity and stamina for a show like this go hand in hand. It doesn’t matter how creative you are if you don’t have the stamina to continue on.”
He also loved that sustainability was a consideration for the designers. “At some point in the competition, pretty much every designer had mentioned that they want to really push to create more sustainable brands and I do love that that’s the way fashion is moving forward. Tommy Hilfiger, who was a guest on the show, said something along the lines of, ‘If sustainability isn’t at the forefront of your design, you are not the future of fashion’ and I thought that was really poignant.”
Some of the other guest judges were Monique Lhuillier, Prabal Gurung, Eva Chen, Elizabeth Stewart, Phillip Lim, Adriana Lima and Beth Ditto.
Eliminating contestants was an emotional process for Tan. He doesn’t usually cry easily—in fact, he reminded us, we’ve only seen him cry once on “Queer Eye.” “I’m not an emotional person in general. However, this played real close to my heart because I’m a designer, I know how hard it is to achieve success. I struggled for so many years to garner success in my industry. So every time I had to give them the bad news of letting them go or if we were struggling with a decision, I would break down and cry because it was so difficult to dash somebody’s hopes and dreams,” he said. “I wanted them to know that I cared. I wanted them to know that I’m in the trenches with them and I get it.”
What’s it like working with Alexa Chung? “A dream,” Tan said. “I have been, for 15 years, the ultimate Alexa Chung fan. I think she’s truly the best host on TV in the US or the U.K. She’s smart, she’s funny and just highly entertaining. I had one of the best experiences of my life working with her and I’m very grateful that we became actual friends. I love her so much. And I think it shows, I don’t think you can fake that kind of chemistry.”
We asked Tan what he has discovered about Alexa in the course of working on the show. “Oh, easy. That she is frighteningly attractive, even at five o’clock in the morning. I’m like, ‘This is 5 a.m., why do you look like this?’ She is very blessed.”
Tan has fun with Alexa behind the scenes just like he does with the rest of “Queer Eye’s” Fab Five. “We behave like children, we steal from each other. We do whatever would probably make our parents disappointed which is not behaving like adults.”
He laughed as he talked about how Alexa would steal snacks from his green room. Her rider asks for just healthy snacks, he said, while he asks for more fun stuff. “Every time I come back to my dressing room after filming a scene, she was in my dressing room, eating my snacks. And I try to explain, ‘You can have these snacks, you just need to tell someone that you want them in your room too’ and she’s like, ‘No, I’m healthy.’ Then why are you eating my snacks?”
Jonathan Van Ness does the same while shooting “Queer Eye,” Tan said. “Apparently, no one wants me to eat. I could probably be a much healthier weight if my cast mates would let me eat.”
There’s more chaos while shooting “Queer Eye” than “Next in Fashion,” he shared. “Those boys are a nightmare. I got a lot more work done with Alexa because even though we have so much fun, she’s not as distracting. The ‘Queer Eye’ boys, I love them so much, but because we know each other so well, because we’ve been together for almost three years, it’s so chaotic on set. Imagine if you will, you’re in primary school, you have four of your best friends and the teacher is trying to tell you to concentrate but you’re having the time of your life. That’s what it’s like trying to get me and my boys to focus on doing our jobs. We just want to play and have fun.”
He says he’s lucky to be in both shows. “I love both. Both are such positive positive experiences. It really will govern my career for the rest of my life and I hope I will not eat my words in 10 years but I can’t imagine I will ever be on a show going forward that is catty or mean or negative or tearing people down. I’ve had two incredibly positive experiences that I don’t plan on going back.”
For Tan, making the show a positive experience for both the contestants and the audience was a conscious decision. “I love that the producers of the show, Old School TV, if there was any further drama between our contestants, they weren’t editing that into the show and highlighting it because there’s no reason to. We made it very clear from the very first day when we had our pre-production meeting that we wanted it to be positive and show a positive side of the high fashion industry. I think everybody in reality TV or scripted TV sees the success of ‘Queer Eye.’ It’s globally recognized as a successful format because of the positivity and so I love that. I would like to believe that the tides are turning and and some shows across the world are following suit.”
There’s no need to create tension and drama because there’s no need to keep the viewers hooked week after week, explained Tan. People can already binge-watch all the episodes of the show’s first season. “You’re just a click away, it’s already there. You don’t have to excite them coming back in a week or so, you just have to hope that you are doing enough of a good job that episode to get them to click on ‘play next.’ That’s possibly what makes it easier for our show to have a kinder tone.”
He’s glad all ten episodes are out, saying he couldn’t wait a week between episodes. “I’m wildly impatient. I finished watching the show within two days.”