"Queer Eye" Star Tan France on Welcoming a Baby Via Surrogate During COVID

Tan France and husband Rob France

Tommaso Boddi / Stringer / Getty Images

Having already achieved an illustrious career in fashion, Tan France was thrust into the global spotlight in 2018 when his reality show “Queer Eye” premiered on Netflix. Now, a seventh season is in the works, and France is balancing his booming career with parenthood.

The designer welcomed baby Ismail in July 2021, alongside husband Rob France. The couple used a surrogate to help their dreams come true, but the road to a bigger family wasn't without challenges of its own. From the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to a premature birth that forced Ismail to spend a month in the NICU, the Frances faced—and worked through—several obstacles together.

Ahead, read our exclusive interview with the “Next in Fashion” host to learn more about the most challenging parts of being a working dad, the stressors of having a baby during a global pandemic, and his number one diaper bag must-have.

Verywell Family: You welcomed your baby Ismail in July 2021, via a surrogate. How would you describe those early days with a newborn?

Tan France: It was really, really hard. No one can ever prepare you for how difficult it is because you learn on the job. I only had two days off from work each week, which I found very challenging. I was only able to parent half of the day. I was running on no sleep and trying to make it work. These were some of the hardest weeks of my life.

Bringing Ismail home from the NICU was a shock to the system because we had the support of the nurses at the hospital, and then we were home, all alone. We didn't have a nanny at the time. We didn't have a night nurse.

However, through great communication, my husband and I were able to figure out a strategy that worked for us. I would take the first half of the night and he would take the second half. By the time I had to wake up for work at 7:00, I could do my job on at least three or four hours of sleep. But let me tell you, as a performer, when you're going to entertain millions, that ain't easy. You just know that it's going to get easier eventually.

VWF: You must get hundreds of parenting tips and tricks from people online. How do you handle people giving you unsolicited advice?

TF: It depends on the tone and the intention. If it seems like the person is truly wanting to offer a solution, I'm okay with that. I write a weekly bulletin post, like a blog, just giving updates on how life is. And sometimes we'll get really strange comments on there. A lot of people will give very unsolicited, judgmental advice, basically saying, 'I'm doing great at this and you're doing terribly.' They'll ask, 'Why are you only home six days a week and not seven?' That has been incredibly frustrating. But at this point, I kind of laugh it off. If that's all you've got in your life, to make fun of me and how I'm parenting, it’s sad.

VWF: You're purposely covering your baby's face on social media. Can you talk about why you've chosen to keep his identity private in that way?

: Do you know the weird thing? It wasn't really a discussion with my husband and I. It was never a question whether or not we were going to show his face. I chose this as my life four and a half years ago. My son has obviously never suggested that he wants to be judged by the world. And I know how hard it is to be judged by the world. I don't think anyone could have prepared me for how difficult it is to hear others' opinions on my physical appearance. I don't want to put my son through that.

I’m not judging anyone who shows their baby’s face. If you’ve found a way to make it work for you, wonderful. But as somebody who is very public, I know what that did to me, and I don't want to expose my son to that.

My son has obviously never suggested that he wants to be judged by the world. And I know how hard it is to be judged by the world. I don't think anyone could have prepared me for how difficult it is to hear others' opinions on my physical appearance. I don't want to put my son through that.


VWF: You started this journey during the early days of the pandemic and welcomed your child in 2021. What has that been like?

TF: A COVID baby! You know, it’s hard. I'm not going to lie. I come from a South Asian family where we still believe that it takes a village. That's not just a random phrase. We actually behave that way. My siblings all help raise their children together. If they need time off, my siblings will come to my mom's house. Our other siblings will go and help.

But being in America, so far away from all my family, it is very difficult. It's just me and my husband. For over two years, we didn’t have anyone other than our nanny in the home. And so it's been really difficult. We didn't want to put him at risk.

When you have a baby, you want your friends to come over and see them. Literally not one person came over. Antoni [Porowski from “Queer Eye”] was the first one, in February 2022. He had to get a bunch of COVID tests before visiting; he was our first house guest in two years.

VWF: There is a lot of talk about sustainability in fashion and beauty; how are you living a more sustainable life?

TF: I get a lot of product through the mail constantly from brands, and a lot of it is sustainable product, but it's not great product. But sometimes, we come across great things that are also sustainable!

That’s how we feel with everything in our lives. If we can find a sustainable product that is equally as good as whatever we were using before, I feel good about that. I think I'm doing as much as I can right now. Baby steps.

VWF: What’s a baby must-have you’re loving right now?

TF: I love these Goodnest Magic Wash Dissolving Soap Sheets. This product is actually really helpful—and we don't need to have as many things in the diaper bag. It’s sustainable and it’s a great product, so it makes sense for us.


By Dory Zayas
Dory Zayas is a freelance beauty, fashion, and parenting writer. She spent over a decade writing for celebrity publications and since having her daughter in 2019, has been published on sites including INSIDER and Well+Good.