REGENERATION – Transformation Stories
Dressed for Success: Queer Eye’s Tan France Is Living His Best Life
By Linda Childers
It’s fair to say 2019 has been a good year for Tan France, the resident fashion expert on the hit Netflix show “Queer Eye.”
In June, France and his Fab Five co-stars—Antoni Porowski (food and wine expert), Karamo Brown (culture), Jonathan Van Ness (grooming) and Bobby Berk (design)—learned that Netflix had renewed their hit show for an additional two seasons. The network also gave France a new web series, “Dressing Funny,” that showcases both his humor and fashion knowledge and cast him in a new fashion competition show, “Next in Fashion,” with co-host and style icon Alexa Chung.
And if that wasn’t enough, France also spilled tea (literally) in Taylor Swift’s new music video “You Need to Calm Down” and somehow found the time for a whirlwind cross-country book tour.
We caught up with France during his San Francisco appearance at the Commonwealth Club to talk about his workout regimen, how he discovered and nurtured his passion for fashion, and why he almost quit the hit show.
Daily workouts keep him sane
In order to maintain the energy needed to keep his busy schedule, France works out four to five days a week.
“I’ve been working out since I was 20, and before “Queer Eye,” I was in the gym a minimum of six days a week,” France admits. “It’s a way for me to de-stress and re-energize. If I skip a daily workout, I don’t feel like myself.”
France works out with weights each day, targeting a different muscle group. For cardio, he might take a fast walk on the treadmill or embark on a hike with his husband, Rob, in the mountains near their home in Salt Lake City.
“My family has a history of diabetes and heart disease, and exercise was never emphasized when I was growing up,” France says. “As I’ve gotten older, I make it a priority to eat healthy and exercise. When we’re filming ‘Queer Eye,’ Antoni and I typically work out every morning.”
Being true to himself
France always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He discovered at a young age while working summers at his grandfather’s denim factory in England that he enjoyed fashion design. Growing up in a strict Pakistani family, France’s mom wanted him to pursue a career as a doctor, lawyer or engineer. He told his mom he was studying psychology while really studying fashion design. His mother learned his true major just before France’s graduation.
“Doing what your parents expect of you isn’t the only way to make them proud,” France says. “I wanted to live my own life and pursue what made me happy but still manage to show them that I’m worthy. I told my mom that no matter what I did with my fashion degree, I would be her most successful child.”
He accomplished that by founding two clothing lines, Kingdom & State and Rachel Parcell Inc., while in his 20s and then selling the brands and retiring at age 33.
On almost quitting the show
As an English immigrant of Pakistani descent and a member of the LGBTQ community, who was raised Muslim, France knew there weren’t any people like himself reflected in popular culture. Yet he admits, there was a time when he needed to be convinced that he was an integral part of the show.
“I had never been on camera before like the rest of the cast,” France admits.
“I initially worried that everything I said or did would be seen as me speaking for the entire South Asian community or every Muslim. I felt a lot of pressure.”
After speaking with the show’s producers, France decided to just be himself and to embrace the opportunity to represent people who have been traditionally underrepresented in the media.
“I strive to be unapologetically authentic and maybe help viewers who can identify with me to feel less alone and give them hope,” France says.
Tolerance is a two-way street
In these politically polarized times, France admits he was initially apprehensive about “Queer Eye” filming in the conservative South and how he would be received as one of the few openly gay South Asian men on television. He acknowledges the show is as much about changing preconceived ideas as it is about changing clothes.
“I was hesitant to go into the homes of people I assumed were staunchly conservative and had never met a person of color before,” France says. “Instead, I found people who were more open-minded than I assumed and receptive to having important conversations.”
At the Commonwealth Club, France tells the audience, “As long as there’s hate the way it is, there will be ‘Queer Eye.’ The gays will save the world.”
He admits later that he was only half-joking.
“The LGBTQ community has been downtrodden for decades,” France says. “Who better to teach the world what it means to be kind, loving and accepting? I’ve learned that all of us, despite our backgrounds and beliefs, are very much alike.”
Fresh from the publicity tour for “Naturally Tan: A Memoir” (St. Martin’s Press, June 2019), Tan France shares his personal routine that works best for him. Some “rules” (like no screens before bed) are meant to be broken.
First thing you do when you wake up? “I put the kettle on the stove to make a cup of fresh ground coffee with half and half and a teaspoon of raw sugar.”
Last thing before bed? “I check my Instagram account.”
If you only have 24 minutes, your go-to workout? “I’d do a quick set of abs and a jog on the treadmill.”
Book you’re reading now? “Bossypants by Tina Fey. I’ve read it before, but I’m about to go on a long plane ride and plan to read it again.”
Article of clothing you couldn’t live without or one you’d reinvent? “On the show, people will often hear me talk about a French tuck, where you slightly tuck a portion of your shirt into your pants or skirt. It gives off a laid-back vibe while also balancing your proportions and making you appear taller and leaner.”
Best fashion advice? “Wear clothing that makes you feel really good about yourself.”
Video credit: Courtesy of Netflix
Photo credit: Courtesy of Tan France; courtesy of St. Martin’s Press; courtesy of Netflix; courtesy of Tan France; book jacket courtesy of St. Martin’s Press