Tan France and Alexa Chung on being queer in fashion and what sets their new Netflix show apart from Project Runway
How do you follow a show like Queer Eye? If you’re Tan France, it’s by recruiting a drunken Alexa Chung to help you present a major Netflix series.
France and Chung have joined forces up for Next In Fashion, which finds 18 designers competing for a $250,000 prize and the chance to sell their designs on online fashion Mecca Net-a-Porter.
The presenters arrive at the show from opposite sides of the TV merry-go-round: France riding high on the back of Queer Eye‘s world-conquering success, Chung having largely stepped away from presenting in favour of a successful career as a designer.
It was Chung’s eponymous womenswear line that bought the pair together. They first met at a Victoria Beckham party during London Fashion Week, where Chung was celebrating her own well-received AW19 show.
“I was really letting loose, I’d completed this runway show,” Chung recalls to PinkNews.
“She’d completed the bar,” interrupts France.
Laughing, Chung continues: “I was elated. Tan walked in and I screamed because I love him and I had literally just been watching Queer Eye.”
As it turned out, France had recently signed on to front Next In Fashion. He mentioned it to Chung, who was “too drunk to realise” at the time, and once reminded she agreed to join him.
Tan France says crushing dreams took him back to ‘a great period of depression’.
Despite having never worked together Tan France and Alexa Chung are a solid double act – warm, funny and impressively knowledgable about the fashion industry, having both worked in it for much of their careers away from the camera.
Together they serve as both presenters and judges, casting their critical eye over the contestants’ designs as they tackle challenges such as red carpet, tailoring and rock.
While the pair clearly relish in their roles, there are points where cutting contestants proves difficult: in one episode an elimination is cancelled by a teary-eyed France, the task having taken its toll on both presenters as well their guest judges.
“We know the pressure of this game,” France explains. “It took me right back to all the feelings I used to have when I was a struggling designer.
“I went through a great period of depression. I’m not somebody who has struggled with depression ordinarily, but running a design business can do that to you. It can make you really question yourself and your position in the world, so it was hard. You’re about to break somebody’s dream.”
“It’s knowing that this could life-changing and feeling the responsibility of that,” chimes Chung. “It was tough.”
Queer Eye cast visited Tan France on the Next In Fashion set.
A happier time on set was to be found during the filming of the grand finale, which saw Tan France surprised by his Queer Eye cast mates Jonathan Van Ness and Bobby Berk.
“It was so lovely,” he beams. “You know when you’re a kid and you’re in a school play, and you see your parents – and you want to wave at them but people are going to think you’re such a dork? That’s how it felt.”
He revealed that this last day on set crossed over with filming for Taylor Swift’s “You Need To Calm Down”, in which the Fab Five – and basically every other queer celebrity – made a cameo appearance.
“It was a really surreal experience,” France says of the day. “Karamo and Anthony were filming their scenes at the time so they couldn’t be there [for the final]. We all work so crazily.”
The theme of LGBT+ Pride is felt throughout the series. A number of the contestants identify as queer (sadly, there are no openly trans designers), including Marco Morante of the LA-based Marco Marco.
In one episode Morante creates a rainbow-themed underwear look that’s “very, very gay and very, very celebratory,” and reminiscent of his designs for stars such as Britney Spears, Katy Perry and pretty much every RuPaul’s Drag Race queen imaginable.
It’s about self-expression and freedom.
When PinkNews asks the pair why they thought the show – and the fashion industry at large – is so well-populated by LGBT+ folk, Chung replies simply: “It’s about self-expression and freedom.”
France suggests that fashion can be an outlet for young queer people who aren’t yet out to their families.
“When my family wasn’t around and I was on my own, I would play with my sister’s clothes, I would play with dressing up.
“I think a lot of us us within the LGBTQ community grow up finding ways to express ourselves through our clothes, whether it be in private or publicly, because we don’t get to express who we truly are with our family. That was true for me.
“And so I think that we have come up knowing that that’s a way of expressing yourself. And often, that turns into a career.”
Inclusion at the heart of Next In Fashion.
As well as being LGBT-inclusive, the show is also incredibly diverse in terms of race and nationality. Along with British and American designers, there are contestants of black, Mexican and Pakistani heritage, along with talents from China, South Korea and India.
France says that the decision to cast so diversely was an easy one.
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“Netflix is a global platform and it made sense to make sure that this was a global competition.
“I think it makes for a much more interesting show, [and when it came to the finalists] it didn’t matter if the person was white, black, Asian… it did not matter.”
Without giving too much away, this diversity carries right through to the final, in which two designers are challenged with creating 10 looks in three days.
“Everyone is so talented,” France says. “You don’t get onto that show unless you are so, so talented. And there were some people who were incredible, but caved in under the pressure. I couldn’t do it.”
Despite this pressure, both France and Chung are insistent that the show “isn’t based on drama”, which France says sets it apart from its rival Project Runway.
“You’re really rooting for people in our show, and I think when you break it down it comes from the fact that Alexa and I, and our relationship, sets the tone. I love that and I feel like it makes for a very different show.”
Next in Fashion launches on Netflix on January 29.