Long before he entertained the masses as Queer Eye's resident style expert, Tan France was hard at work in the fashion world. He designed clothing and worked in operations for retailers like Zara and Selfridges while living in London; after moving to the U.S., he launched a series of his own brands, including a line of modest womenswear to cater to the Mormon population in his adopted home state of Utah. But in 2017, France made the bold decision to give it all up. He sold his companies, leaving manufacturing and what he dubs his "most stressful years" behind him, and settled into a quiet life of retirement at the ripe age of 33. Then, of course, Hollywood called.
Since breaking big on Netﬂix in 2018, France has turned down countless opportunities to develop a new apparel line. But when he was recently approached by brand incubator THMBL and given creative carte blanche, minus the logistical responsibilities of production, France suddenly felt the familiar pull to design — although choosing exactly what to create wasn't easy. "I didn't want to do a regular clothing line, because everyone seems to have one these days, and I couldn't care less," he says with a laugh. "Plus, when those pieces go out of style, they end up filling a landfill and killing this planet." Instead, he turned his attention to a more timeless category: outerwear. "Coats are the only thing people really see on you during the cooler months," says France, who modeled the line, called Was Him, for our shoot along with his friend Lilly Singh. "You can wear something crummy or casual underneath, and as long as what's on the outside is gorgeous, it looks intentional."
France's ultimate vision was to deliver a limited range of pieces that are gender-neutral, structured, and affordable at under $500 a pop. "Luxe outerwear costs a fortune, and I'm not the kind of person who is willing to spend that kind of money often," says France, who even invited his artist husband, Rob, to create eye-catching and meaningful graphics. "As a dual citizen, I wanted this to be a marriage of American and British style. A tailored coat is quintessentially British, so the silhouettes are a nod to the U.K., and my husband is from a family of cowboys in Wyoming, so I asked him to design equestrian-themed patterns for the coats' embroidery."
The seven styles in the brand's first drop — which is available on thmbl.com and includes winter-friendly overcoats and shorter zip-up jackets — are big on color-blocking. A single-breasted navy topcoat, worn by Singh at our shoot, features ombré green pockets that France says are inspired by the shades of grass on his husband's ranch. Singh, for one, was a fan. "I felt like a mothereffin' boss," she says of modeling the piece. "My own style can be a bit androgynous, and even though I like to look good, I never want to sacrifice functionality. Tan's coats are comfortable, and they make me feel conﬁdent."
The fact that France and Singh can both rock the styles with ease is no coincidence. "A coat is a coat," says France. "I loved seeing how gorgeous they looked on Lilly because she's got grooves and curves. Plus, as two queer brown South Asian people doing something together for a publication in the Western world, it felt so much bigger than, 'Oh, she's putting on my coat.' It was really impactful for me." Singh also embraced the magnitude of the "rare" bonding experience on set. "We ﬁrst hit it off when Tan was on my show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh, and we discovered our mutual love of old Bollywood," she says. "Now we text all the time, and I constantly ask him for fashion advice."
With Was Him officially out in the world, France can't help but marvel at how far he's come. "Never in a million years did I think someone would spend their hard-earned money on one of my designs," he says. "It just blows my mind." Despite his success, France isn't jaded by the industry. "I love fashion, but people take it so seriously, and there can be a lot of pretension involved. I know most of that crowd probably thinks I'm a joke, and that's OK. I couldn't give an eff about being cool, and I've never professed to be a slave to fashion. That's so not who I am — and why would I try to become something that I'm not?"
Photography by Emma Montalvan. Styling by Sue Choi. Hair by Ramsell Martinez for Forward Artists. Makeup by Aaron Paul for Exclusive Artists. Manicure by Jolene Brodeur for The Wall Group. Production by Viewﬁnders.
For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 22nd.
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