Tan France on Why His New Fashion Show Is Not a “Project Runway” Knockoff

"We never encourage bitchiness or nastiness," says the "Next in Fashion" host. "That's not our vibe at all."

Tan France doesn’t do negative, even when he’s being judgy. Evidence: Next in Fashion, his sassy, slick, and addictive 10-episode fashion competition series, which adds a lot of upbeat extras to the Project Runway template.

The Queer Eye fashion expert co-hosts the new Netflix show with model-turned-designer (and fellow Brit) Alexa Chung as they welcome 18 seasoned designers vying for $250,000 and their very own Net-a-Porter collection. Given that he already wrapped a fifth season of Queer Eye, tickled us last summer with his web series Dressing Funny (in which he helped gussy up hopeless comedians), and recently launched an eyewear collection with EyeBuyDirect, it’s surprising France has time to pick out his own clothes in the morning, let alone chat with NewNowNext.

Nevertheless, here he dishes on why Next in Fashion is not Project Runway, how he’d style Mayor Pete, and which episode of Queer Eye he can never watch again.

While it’s in the same vein as Project Runway, your new show features a lot of unique aspects, including fashion tips for the audience. How did you and the producers want to distinguish Next in Fashion from all the other fashion shows?

Here’s the thing: We’ll always be compared to Project Runway because it was the first of its kind, but the similarity stops with us both being fashion competition shows. Next in Fashion is very positive, in the vein of The Great British Bake Off, which I’m obsessed with, and which is a very positive competition show. We never encourage bitchiness or nastiness. That’s not our vibe at all. Most importantly, our designer contestants are established. Many come from major fashion houses like Stella McCartney, Alexander Wang, and Louis Vuitton, or they have their own brands that are already wildly successful. And it really does show, particularly in the finale, which was achieved in two and a half days. Those finale collections are world-class, comparable to any major designer show you see out there on the runway.

Competing designers on Next in Fashion.

Did you ask Tim Gunn or Christian Siriano or Heidi Klum for any advice when you decided to do NIF?

I’ve only met Heidi and Tim once. I did sit with Nina Garcia a few months ago after the show was shot, but I hadn’t seen PR for two or three years and didn’t want to revisit it because I didn’t want to be inspired by that hosting style. I wanted it to feel like me on Queer Eye but hosting a show, if that makes sense.

You first met Alexa in 2019 at a London Fashion Week party.

Yes, a Victoria Beckham party, to be precise. I don’t know how I got the invite! I wasn’t going to go, because I get very nervous in party situations, but my husband convinced me. I turned up late, was going to do one lap and leave, and Alexa saw me, gasped, screamed, ducked, and then asked her friend if she thought I’d seen her, and I had. So I went over and said, “I came here to meet you,” and we spent the next hour giggling and having the best time, and I fell in love with her immediately and told her about this show. Then she forgot, but then we made it happen!

Tan France (left), Alexa Chung (center), and guest judge Tommy Hilfiger.

Did any ideas for it not make the cut, for better or for worse?

There were a couple of things we filmed every episode that didn’t make it. Any opportunity I get to play with Alexa, I’m in heaven. It reminds me of Queer Eye when I get to play with my boys. We had a version of that where Alexa and I tried to dissect who would win [before the runway], and it was hilarious. That girl is such a fucking idiot. She’s so funny, she makes me laugh so much, and we were howling. I wish they’d kept it, but I guess it was just us two being dickheads so there was no reason to.

You’re going to appear in The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer later this year, and you showed up in Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video last June. Is there anything you’ve declined to be part of?

Oh my god, I can’t tell you what they are! There have been many. The things I always say no to are the ones that clearly don’t make sense for me, or are shows that are a little more aggressive or nasty or competitive. That’s so not my brand. Any of the boys will tell you that I don’t shy away from confrontation, but I like to get a situation resolved as quickly as possible. It’s never nasty. I don’t shout at anyone. So the answer is always no if it will make me seem mean. That’s so not what I’m about.

Celebrity stylist and guest judge Jason Bolden (left) and France.

Are any episodes of Queer Eye too hard to watch again because they affect you so profoundly?

Yeah, I can’t watch the one with A.J. [Brown, from Season 1]. I watched it twice, and I can’t again. It kills me.

What if Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ folks called and said she wanted to be on Queer Eye?

It would be a pass from me. We like to give our makeovers to people who really are deserving and have done something that warrants it.

You’ve also just launched some new eyewear. How did the Tan France x EyeBuyDirect line come about?

I’ve worn their stuff a few times and they noticed, so they reached out and asked if I would be willing to do a collaboration. That was the easiest “yes.” I love it when I get to design, and I jumped at the chance. People seem to be enjoying the collection, which is nice!

Chung, France, and guest judges scrutinize the runway.

I’m going to name a few people and have you select which of the 20 styles they should wear. Ready? First, RuPaul.

My favorite pair is Morla, so I’m gonna say probably Morla.

Nancy Pelosi.

I would say something more classic. It would be Sequence.

Bowen Yang.

Oh my god, I love Bowen Yang! Village or Lighthouse.

Mayor Pete.

Ooh! Something kooky. Let’s go with Groove!

Finally, a fashion question that has nothing to do with the French tuck: What kind of underwear are you wearing right now?

[Laughs] A really simple black H&M trunk. Basic!

Next in Fashion premieres January 29 on Netflix.

Lawrence is a New York-based travel and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Time Out New York and The New York Post.