Tan France and Alexa Chung are sitting in front of me in Refinery29’s photo studio, and they are overheating. “We’re in seven-gauge cashmere,” Chung jokes — or is it a joke? — while France pops up and cracks open the window. For the next 30 minutes, the duo, whose energy and natural banter make them a pleasure to talk to, proceed with a mix of wit, charm, and insider fashion references, often spoken at the same time or cutting each other off with excitement. I expected nothing less: Both style stars have made names for themselves in the reality space — their work is largely personality-driven — and so a conversation with them feels hyper-familiar, as though it’s the continuation of a conversation you’ve been having with them for years.
This is perhaps why they’re such perfect hosts for Next In Fashion, Netflix’s debut in the fashion reality space, which dropped on 29 January. With a winning combination of style, silliness, and earnestness that’s tempered with sarcasm, Chung and France are a refreshing answer to the fashion personalities we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on television. The structure of the show, while similar to its predecessor Project Runway, has its own unique angle: The contestants are already professional designers. They’re just not famous yet. And within that, the show prioritizes topics like inclusivity and sustainability, bringing in a diverse range of well-known designers who are on the cutting edge of an industry shift. It’s a familiar format driven into new territories by charming personalities and breathtaking talent; the perfect show to binge. As for the winner? Well, that’s spoiled in the conversation below, so if you haven’t finished watching, you’ve been warned.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Next in Fashion.
Refinery29: How did you originally meet each other?
Tan France: “We were invited to a party by Victoria Beckham's team. I'm assuming she gets invited to a lot of Victoria Beckham stuff. This was my first time.”
Alexa Chung: “It was my first Victoria Beckham party.”
TF: “Get out. I don't know if I believe that.”
AC: “It was. Since then I have been invited to a dinner.”
TF: “Oh, get out. I never got so much as an invite. I think I fucked up my chances at that party. And so I met Alexa because I walked around the room, and she screamed.”
AC: “I was drunk.”
TF: She was a little bit drunk. She ducked down and said to a friend, I think he heard me.”
AC: Yes, he fucking did.
TF: “I absolutely fucking did. Then I declared my undying love, and she was a fan of Queer Eye. We chatted for about half an hour, and then I left. Then we started working together and it's been fucking bliss.”
It's interesting that you were both familiar with each other's work and public personas before you started actually working together. Did you find that there were assumptions that you had made about each other?
TF: “Not really. You are pretty much like you are on TV.”
AC: “Oh yeah. Personality-wise, yeah. I didn't know as much about Tan's background in fashion, so that was interesting to learn.”
TF: “Alexa’s been on my screens, not for the last few years, but before then…”
AC: “I'm very old.”
TF: “So since she was 16 — and she's now 66 — she has been on TV. She's basically herself. I don't think you had a script. If you did, well done.” (Editor’s note: Alexa Chung, who is 36, not 66, has been on a wide range of TV shows since 2006, both as a popular red carpet reporter and as the host of her own series like MTV’s It’s On With Alexa Chung.)
AC: "We wrote it."
TF: “I never knew. So [her on-screen personality] was very much her. I didn't feel like I was getting to know somebody new. I definitely knew who she was. She was very opinionated on that show, too. Just like I am on Queer Eye. It feels like I'm hanging with the person I used to watch on TV.”
And does it feel like that for you, too, Alexa?
AC: “Yeah, 100% yeah.”
TF: “Bitchier in real life.”
AC: “A horrible man. But a great, hard-working horrible man. The reason I screamed when he walked in was because I thought he was wonderful. And he is wonderful. It’s actually unlike me to be that positive about someone.”
One thing that I thought immediately when I started watching the show was that what you guys wear as the hosts is really important.
AC: “Thank you for noticing, because we…”
TF: “We give away the fucking episode every time. It's so stupid of us. But I do love our outfits.”
Did you self-style or did you work with a stylist?
TF: “There is a stylist that we have — on Next in Fashion, not other projects — because you are constantly shooting. You can't possibly pull for yourself. I have somebody pull for me who's wonderful, and I love her very much. But I would say, I want this please, can you go get that from that brand or designer?”
AC: “I chose to work with Danielle Nachmani. Because, same thing, it was just for the show. I needed help pulling it, and they have to keep track of it. I feel like I'm justifying that. I think I'm justifying it because it matters a lot to me that I style myself, and so this is one of the only occasions where I've actually used a stylist. But she was great.”
TF: “The reason why it is important to us and I think the reason we have very much felt this topic is because…”
AC: “She is a fantastic stylist, and I'm a big fan of her work. She dresses lots of celebrities. I think she does such a great job. With me she did lots of it, but also I dictated a lot of it as well.”
TF: “Let me explain this one last point then I promise I'm done. We do this for a job, [Alexa] way more so. But people look to us for inspiration, I hope, when it comes to clothing, and so if we can't choose looks for ourselves, something's wrong.”
AC: “I think it's lame to have a stylist basically.”
TF: “I don't.”
AC: “I do.”
TF: “That's pure her. She does not speak for both of us.”
AC: “I do. I hate it when celebrities have stylists. It's like, what's your own style?”
Reality TV has obviously changed a lot in the past decade. How is this show different from reality TV in general, and specifically from other fashion competitions?
TF: “So reality TV has existed over the last couple of decades, but it really started in 2002 apparently.”
AC: “MTV’s The Real World was a reality show in the '90s.”
TF: “That really wasn't real.”
AC: “Jersey Shore.”
TF: “So around about 2000 is when it really started to hit big, where it became mainstream. And that was the likes the original Queer Eye.”
AC: “Big Brother.”
TF: “Yeah, but in the UK, the Big Brother massively. Then in the US in particular: Housewives.
AC: “Scared and Naked. Sorry.”
TF: “So those shows, they were built on negativity, anger, drama, and highly, highly, highly produced shows. Whereas our show — whether it be Next in Fashion or Queer Eye — I think that the tides are turning. Where people are wanting more positive shows that actually take them out of the crappiness of what's going on in the world right now. Especially from our own government. So having an opportunity to watch TV and just be all positive — with that we can find connection even through competition.”
AC: Would it be safe to say that actually reality TV is the right word for escapism? Because our reality that we're living in isn't something people want to hang out with, and so they watch reality TV to watch unreality.”
TF: “I love that. So Alexa's changing the definition of reality TV.”
AC: “It's more of a make-a-wish.”
Can you talk about how fashion has changed, and what it takes for a designer to be successful now?
AC: “We're giving [designers] this money to help set up their own brand and also the ability to be sold on Net-a-Porter. That kind of sets the tone and might answer your question in that since the revolution of social media and online shopping, it's a different ballgame. It's no longer going to a destination perusing the racks. In turn, clothes have changed. The way that we interact with style has changed. It's about individualism, but at the same time things can become homogenized faster because the more likes it gets, [the more] it spreads out. I think we cycle through trends at a faster rate. What do you have to do to be a modern designer? You have to be able to understand the business is a 360-degree situation; it's no longer just about the art of creativity. It's also about having a good business head because there's so many people vying for that position. And I think something that was amazing about social media is that it kind of democratized fashion in a way and it gave everyone a portal to their industry. However, it also flooded the market with so many different voices in the room. Now to cut through, you have to do something that's really strong, or really has a point of view or is super authentic essentially.”
What did you like about the winning designer?
TF: “There's literally not one thing I dislike about her.”
AC: She's chronically talented; I was so impressed by everything. The challenge where they do print and pattern and she started creating their own fabric design was amazing to see. That's when I first noticed her as being a really standout.”
TF: “Yes, it cemented her position in the competition, and she thinks differently from pretty much everybody in the competition. She pushes a brand forward that is unique, and it's very much her even though we'd say push this further, push this further. You could always tell that it was a Minju Kim walking down that floor.”
AC: “Through every different lens we put it through. Any of the tailoring or underwear or things that aren't necessarily part of her vernacular she still managed to create something that felt very her. I think that's the marker of a great designer. She understood who she was and what she represented and what her look was. It never was diluted by any challenge.”
TF: “Even when we'd say maybe just like sexy it up a little bit, sex sells. She gave us her version of sexy, not our version of sexy. She was really resolute. She was incredibly passionate about who she was and what she wanted her brand to be regardless of our show. That's why she was the winner. She’s also the most lovable person you could ever meet.”
AC: “Everyone loved her. She went on an amazing kind of emotional journey as well. She found confidence away from her family and was able to say at the end of all of this, ‘I'm really proud of myself.’ I thought that was so touching.”
TF: “We love a Queer Eye moment.”
What is next for the two of you? Are you going to keep working together?
AC: “Get married.”
AC: “I hope we get to work together again. We don't know. But if we do, I would love it, and if we don't then we should make our own sad version at home. Like I did in my bedroom when I was a teenager.”
You should do it on TikTok.
AC: “Yeah. We'll just be massive on TikTok.”
TF: “A TikTok version of the show. We don't know yet.”
AC: “Can I ask a really grandma question? What the fuck is TikTok?”
TF: “I don't quite understand it. I think it's like a mini Vine?”
AC: “Do they dance?”
TF: “I think it's just dancing.”
AC: “Because I loved Vine.”
TF: “Is it like Dubsmash?”
AC: “Yeah is it like Dubsmash?”
It's more like Vine. I think dances just do really well on it.
TF: “Why do people use it? Fuck. We are sounding really old.”
AC: “I am old. That's okay. Let's not be ageist.”
TF: "Why do people use it?"
I'm glad that you're asking me, someone who has never used TikTok.
AC: “Yeah but you're hip; you're cool.”
TF: “You're in your twenties.”
I’m not in my twenties.
TF: ”But you work for Refinery.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.