For a few months last year, Queer Eye star Tan France and the rest of the Netflix show’s Fab Five lived in Philadelphia’s Old City, fanning out each day to help the people he calls “heroes” improve their lives with everything from new wardrobes and hairstyles to new ways of thinking about their work and maybe even their places in the universe.
The show’s fifth season premieres Friday, with 10 episodes filmed in neighborhoods across the city and as far away as the Jersey Shore. Watching, it’s a little surreal to be reminded, amid a pandemic and the heartrending events of these past weeks, that all this was us only last summer.
France, though, “would like to believe that what we filmed still is appropriate for the world today.” In a phone interview on Wednesday, Queer Eye’s fashion expert talked about bringing comfort to people who may not always feel seen, the future of hugging, and his struggle to master a Philadelphia accent.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Most of our heroes, we keep up to date with on their social [media], and they post regularly.
Which makes us so proud. She’s an incredibly hard worker. Small businesses have been affected so greatly over the last few months. I used to be a small-business owner, so to see them struggle, especially if theirs are businesses that we have helped on Queer Eye, is especially difficult because we know the amount of work they put in.
And it’s a shame that the show is launching at a time when probably people can’t get out and easily access the businesses that we have talked about in Philly. And so they’re not going to see the uptick [in business] that they ordinarily would do.
I would like to believe so. Yes, certain people do feel unseen, unheard, unloved. I do believe that there is space for the likes of Queer Eye to hopefully bring some comfort to people. If they’re home, they are looking for programming right now that hopefully inspires them, makes them feel more positive, and reminds them of the love that’s out there, and encourages them to connect with people.
So I’m hoping that even with everything that’s going on right now, that this will be a touchstone, an opportunity for them to be reminded of all the good that’s out there as well. We don’t shy away from [tough] conversations on our show. We’re very comfortable discussing any topic.
I will say this: I’m a hugger, I have always been a hugger. I love to give a hug, as opposed to a handshake. And maybe there’s a world where even a handshake isn’t appropriate for a while. I know that many new measures will need to be taken before we get into filming. However, I hope that one of them, if this is even possible, is to screen all of us beforehand, and our heroes, to make sure that we are free to connect however it feels appropriate.
But I will back off all the hugs if I have to. The five of us truly are very loving, and we just want to embrace everybody we can. The episodes we did in Japan, we worked with heroes who didn’t hug — it wasn’t part of their culture. But we were able to find connection without hugging every five seconds.
I love thrift shopping. It was a very good selection in Philly. I actually prefer Philly’s vintage or thrifted items to the likes of New York’s because they don’t hike up the prices like they do in other major cities. If I’m not in a city that I know really well, I will usually go for a vintage shop before anything else because you’re going to find something incredibly unique.
I do like the idea of not buying something brand new. I prefer to shop vintage and thrift as much as possible. Because there is enough clothing out there for us to not have to buy new constantly.
Philadelphia’s are the strongest of all of them. Other times, Americans just sound generic American to me. I haven’t been here long enough to really understand the nuances. But Jennifer’s was very clearly Philadelphian, and I found it first of all hilarious in the most polite way. It was the hardest accent I’ve ever tried to do. Your words are often not said the way they are written, wooder [water] being one of those.
It felt kind of English. I loved so much about that little community. I shot so much while I was there, I didn’t get to learn or explore as much as I might have liked to.
Royal Izakaya, I loved very much. Beautiful sushi. My favorite of all was Little Nonna’s. The food was gorgeous. The tiramisu was the best I’ve had outside of Italy.
I love it. I’m just going to be honest, I used to give a ready, sweet, fake answer just to be polite. But I’m sick of doing that. [Coming to Salt Lake] was the first time I was ever allowed to feel like I wasn’t a second-class citizen. I know the common misconceptions are that the Mormons aren’t very welcoming. That’s never been my experience of them.
Actually, every one of my close friends in Utah is LDS [members of the Church of Latter-day Saints] and they’ve been the most welcoming people I’ve ever experienced in my life. They’ve allowed me a family, they have become my family. And that’s without even mentioning my in-laws, who are also Mormon.
[Laughs] I’m the most vocal. The British culture is a lot more open about our opinions, and our feelings. And the American culture is a little more passive.