Queer Eye’s Tan France Is Everything You Want Him To Be

By Lili Göksenin
Photos by Simon Cave

When Tan France was 19, he graduated from fashion school in the UK and got a job at a well-known multinational clothing chain in the northern city of Manchester. The normal entry level position for most teenagers is store associate, right? Nope! France, now the fashion expert on Netflix’s insanely popular reboot of Queer Eye, was hired for his first job in retail as manager of the menswear department. “I don’t know how,” he laughs. “I was very confident!”

 

 

It only took him six months to become the store manager, a meteoric rise for a literal teen and one that France attributes to a mix of bossiness and his ability to motivate his coworkers (hmm, sounds familiar). On the show, France’s role as the stylist for southern gentlemen who aren’t exactly, well, gentlemen, is a big one. Aside from Bobby’s incredible home improvements and Jonathan’s sassy grooming sessions, Tan’s fashion advice is downright transformational.  He delivers his tips and tricks with astounding finesse and a calming confidence that wins over even the most swagless homies on the show.

 

 

Confidence is at the crux of nearly every story France tells us during a break on “set” of our photoshoot with him in New York City. Instead of a studio, we’re shooting in our newly reimagined 51st and Madison store, and instead of asking him to pose and look handsome against a seamless backdrop, we’re asking him to run around the neighborhood in 80+ degree heat (and look handsome). He handles it all with ease and without breaking a sweat or knocking a hair out of place in his signature bouffant.

 

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France explains that getting a job as a menswear manager was just a small step on his plan to retire by age 35. (Yes, 35.) “I wanted to learn every aspect of every part of operations, retail, and manufacturing,” he explains. Next up was a wholesale position at a large department store in London and a similar position with an American brand. At this point he was traveling back and forth between the United States and UK every few months, somewhere along the way meeting his future husband. Finally, in his late 20’s, he was ready to start his own brand, which he dubbed Kingdom & State. After struggling for two years—“It was hellacious, and I had no money,”— he added a high waisted bikini style to his line, and just like that, his brand was on the map. “I was on my flight from England to China—19 hours. By the time I landed, the style had sold out completely within literally a day.” Kingdom & State had found its style hook. (France, by the way, takes credit for bringing the high waisted bathing suit back into fashion.)

 

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Fast forward a few years. France had started and sold several other clothing businesses, come this close to starring in a different reality show, and made serious plans to retire ahead of schedule. That’s when Queer Eye called. “They wanted me to audition and I said no thanks, I’m retiring next week, I don’t want to do anything else.” Nonetheless, Netflix convinced him to audition, flying him out to L.A. and putting him through the process of screen testing and gauging his reactions to trick questions (France says they would set him up to be snarky, and he wouldn’t bite—passing their test). Ultimately, it came down to him and one other guy and he begged them to cast the other guy instead. But Netflix knew what they wanted, and France was it.

 

 

 

In the wake of the Queer Eye reboot’s runaway success, France has assumed a role that is the perfect combination of famous and refreshingly normal. In fact, during our shoot on the busy streets of Midtown Manhattan, nearly half a dozen passersby jumped in front of the camera to meet their favorite new fashionisto, some walking directly into his welcoming arms. “Can I get a picture?” they all inevitably asked. “Of course! But only if I can take it. Now, I’m going to teach you how to take the perfect selfie,” he said. Professional, discerning, attentive, and almost shockingly relatable and kind. That’s the Tan France we all know and love from TV, and that’s the Tan France you get in person.

 

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