Salt Lake’s own style master and new Fab 5 member talks fame, fashion, and finding a home.
Life for Salt Lake City resident Tan France has been, to put it lightly, thrilling.
Since this year’s debut of Netflix’s Queer Eye, Tan — one of the show’s “Fab 5” life coaches for style-inept men — spends a lot of his time traveling between Los Angeles, New York, and Salt Lake.
Queer Eye — a reboot of the 2003 series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy — has been a stellar hit with audiences across the globe. And within weeks, Tan has gone from Salt Lake and Instagram fashion big-name to international media darling.
He’s met Jon Bon Jovi who asked for a selfie. He’s attended Elton John’s Oscar Party and kicked it with SNL’s Pete Davidson. He’s Facetimed with Gigi Hadid and exchanged tweets with Chrissy Teigen.
But don’t expect Tan to be packing up for a permanent residence in Hollywood anytime soon. He’s happiest here in Salt Lake with his husband and friends and prefers the slow-paced Utah lifestyle.
Tan, who hails from London and has Pakistani heritage, talked to me about being recognized on the street, his favorite things about Utah and which Fab 5 member he’d need the most help from.
How long have you lived in Utah?
I have been living temporarily in Utah for about 10 years, and for the last four years, I’ve lived here permanently.
Do you get recognized a lot in Utah since Queer Eye debuted?
At this point, it doesn’t matter where we go. There aren’t that many people of color in Salt Lake, so I definitely get recognized more here than anywhere else. On the whole, it’s lovely. But sometimes when they scream my name it scares the crap out of me. Other than that, it’s been amazing.
Could the show work here?
Absolutely, it could. I’m desperately trying to convince them, if we do get to do more seasons, to do one in Utah. Because I think it would be incredible.
I could see the Fab Five take Salt Lake City.
Actually, I wouldn’t want to do Salt Lake. Salt Lake’s liberal enough. I would want to go to Heber or Provo. Actually, Provo is too big. I’d want to do it in, like, Pleasant Grove.
That’s where I grew up!
Oh really? I love Pleasant Grove. I worked there for a couple of years. My favorite thing about Pleasant Grove is that people assume I’m Mexican. And even when I’m speaking in my very firm English accent, they slow down as if I don’t speak English.
That is hilarious and not at all surprising having grown up there.
Pleasant Grove can be very strange. There are definitely other places I would like to go. If we got seasons five, six, seven, I would love to do an international version. I would love to go to countries where they don’t have exposure to gay men like we do in the West and open some minds.
I’ve heard you talk about how much you love Utah. What is it that you love so much?
There are so many things. I have the best friends I could dream of — people I’ve known since I met my husband. They’re the people who make this home for me.
I love the fact that we have seasons. And the people are just the nicest I’ve ever come across. Life is so easy and the people are so friendly. And they treat me extra nice because — even way before the show — people around here love Brits. As soon as I speak, they just want to be my friend, and that’s so lovely.
It’s definitely quiet, and it’s a much easier life than Hollywood or New York.
I learned recently that you have a strong fan base among liberal-minded Mormon women.
Yes! I’ve known that for many years. I created a couple of modest clothing brands for the LDS community. It was different from what was offered by the other modest clothing brands in Utah. So I’ve known for a long time about that fan base. They want to be friends, they’re very liberal, they understand my life and they’re very happy about it. And almost every one of my closest friends is LDS, and that makes me very happy.
The show has resonated strongly with people. It’s taken off in a way that I haven’t really seen before.
It’s the most real show I’ve ever seen, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on it. We don’t reshoot anything. We are five very opinionated men, and we say what we want when we want. And we’re offering an insight into our little world that nobody’s seen before. The only version you see of our community is stereotypical and doesn’t depict us particularly well.
In this current [political] climate, it’s shock and disbelief. So to have a space where we’re able to show that we are still people, that we have similarities and that we can come together and love each other and be friends. I think that’s revolutionary.
The show has highlighted a closeness between men — regardless of sexuality — that you don’t often see. How does that feel?
The majority of people who stop me and ask to talk to me are straight men. They tell me how they never thought they would watch a show like this, and somebody convinced them to watch. And now they feel comfortable enough to say to their partners, their wives or their family, “I want to be the best version of myself.”
And they’ve been given permission by these five gay men who are saying, “You can be curious about skin care. You can be curious about wanting to be a better husband. You can be curious about how to be a better husband by dressing up in a certain way or by cooking for her.”
We gave them permission to ask questions and to be more curious about bettering their life. We’re not chastising them for wanting to be better, for wanting to change their lives. We’re showing them that it’s okay, we want them to be the best version of themselves.
We know that our culture encourages you to be macho. We show you a different version of that. That’s why I think it works so well.
I heard you say in another interview, “If you can’t take care of yourself, how the heck are you going to take care of everyone around you?” Was that a RuPaul’s Drag Race reference?
Okay, I know our community is going to hate me for this. I’ve never seen an episode of Drag Race.
You’re just on the same page.
I’m just as fabulous as RuPaul, actually.
More fabulous. Why do you think that having good style and taking care of your clothes is important?
I’m glad you asked that because I’ve never seen style or fashion as superficial. I know it’s just something on your body, but it can affect how you feel about yourself. Most importantly, it’s a sign of respect for your partner and the people around you.
I mentioned in the Bobby [Camp] episode that I was once dumped by my first boyfriend after many years because I let myself go. It was a major eyeopener because it reminded me that me making an effort isn’t just about me. It’s not a vanity thing. It’s showing my partner that I’m there for them, that I respect them. I should show that I’m willing to step up and be there for them. And that’s not just about clothes. That’s in every facet of my life.
So I do think it’s important that people make an effort to dress appropriately for whichever situation they’re in because it’s not just about them.
What advice would you give men who want to start their wardrobe?
The most important thing for men — and this is based on what I saw when rummaging through literally every hero’s wardrobe — is that they’re all wearing the wrong size.
Find out what your size is. Go to a store, try something on and make sure that shoulder seam hits your shoulder. If it’s at your elbow, it is not your size. It really is simple. Make sure that shoulder seam is on your shoulder — unless you’re having a fashion moment and you want to wear it dropped. If you are worried about it, if you have any doubt, there are salespersons there for a reason and most of them will know how to help you with finding the right size.
And there are many things that can be added to a capsule wardrobe that should stand the test of time, for at least ten years. I like are a dark suit that’s very simple but incredibly well-tailored to your body. I’m not saying a custom suit — it can be a really inexpensive suit that you’ve had tailored to make sure it fits you to perfection. That’s good for weddings, funerals or any other occasion.
I also think every man needs a great pair of black Oxfords or brogues. They will be appropriate for a formal occasion.
Next, a great pair of jeans. A great pair of jeans can make or break a look. Don’t go for a boot cut pair of jeans — they don’t suit many people. Go for either straight leg, if you don’t want to go for skinny, or skinny if you feel like you want to try something cooler.
If you’re worried and you’re in doubt, all you’ve got to do is put on your great pair of jeans, a great white or black tee and a great jacket, and you’re good to go.
If you had a “make better” moment yourself, which of the other Fab 5 guys would you need the most help from?
I would say design, but I did just design my home all myself, and I think it’s gorgeous, so I’m not going to say interior design. And as far as grooming, I’m obsessed with grooming. I have been my whole life. Jonathan [Van Ness] does a great job with our heroes, but I definitely don’t feel I’d [need his help] personally.
I’m going to say cooking. Antoni [Porowski] cooks incredibly well. He cooks for me most nights because we live in the same apartment block. We don’t really go out to bars or clubs, so we spend a lot of time together in the evenings. I do cook Indian food incredibly well. I love Indian food, and it’s what I was raised on. But I don’t cook non-Indian food super well, so that’s the one area [I would need help with].
Is there anything you’d like to say especially for the QSaltLake audience and Utah LGBTQ community?
I hear a lot of negativity toward the boys who are coming out of the [LDS Church] and identify as gay and who toe the line between their Mormon upbringing and their gay life. I don’t love how we chastise them. I don’t love how we make them feel bad for it, and how we won’t date them because they’re going through such a hard time.
My husband was going through that, and we’ve been in a relationship for ten years. It turned out to be wonderful, and it is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had. Don’t discredit somebody just because they’re having a hard time finding a balance between their religion and their sexuality.
I would say that of the Mormon boys more than any other culture or religion I’ve come across. There are a lot of boys who are struggling out here, and the last thing they need is our disdain. They need our support.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Joshua is a freelance writer, and you can reach him on Twitter at @joshuaradamson.
Feature photo by David Daniels, Dav.d Photography