Alexa Chung has been many things, but now she’s fi­nally hon­ing in on her true self. By Alice Bir­rell. Styled by Lucinda Cham­bers. Pho­tographed by Mario Testino.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

Alexa Chung has been many things, but now she’s fi­nally hon­ing in on her true self.

Ihave in­ter­rupted Alexa Chung. She was just get­ting “re­ally into some jazz muzak”, as she calls it, in her ho­tel room at Le Meurice in Paris when my phone call came in. “Kanye and Jay made a very fa­mous song here,” she’s telling me, the Jay be­ing Jay-Z, as she turns down the jazz while po­litely apol­o­gis­ing. In a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view I’d also in­ter­rupted her in the mid­dle of a closet purge when she’d lamented find­ing “hand­bags with stashes of weird shit in them; there’s a bag and in­side that bag there’s an­other bag with three weird band T-shirts,” she had said by way of an in­tro­duc­tion. It’s easy to imag­ine this is the way a lot of peo­ple meet Chung: in a state of do­ing, her de­fault set­ting, and to­day is no dif­fer­ent.

It’s Paris fash­ion week and in­stead of at­tend­ing shows she’s skip­ping out on the apex of the fash­ion cal­en­dar and play­ing host to ed­i­tors and buy­ers who have come to see her new self-ti­tled la­bel. Hav­ing spent much of the past 15-plus years at­tend­ing, this is newish to her. “I did all the shows in Mi­lan,” she of­fers, pro­nounc­ing it “Mill-Anne”, the way Bri­tons do. “It’s only been four days of not go­ing to shows – I went to Gucci and Prada – but it’s just this week. It’s sad to miss things, be­cause it looks re­ally nice.”

Chung is ad­just­ing to the un­fa­mil­iar feel­ing. Her new la­bel is the cul­mi­na­tion of years of spec­u­la­tion, and some­thing that took so long, she says, be­cause it meant say­ing no. “I’m not some­one who’s able to be not busy, so I just kept cre­at­ing projects,” she ex­plains. “Then at some point I re­alised I need to work towards find­ing in­vest­ment, set­ting ev­ery­thing up, and that means turn­ing down other things.”

She comes across as the right amount of self-aware, rather than self-in­volved. Any­thing too se­ri­ous is book­ended by wise­cracks and a pithi­ness that makes her seem old, but with a slang that is a re­minder she’s still young. “I could have re­ally done it when I was, like, 27,” the now-33-year-old ex­plains, “but I was out ev­ery night rag­ing. I had to sort out my life. It was ei­ther, start a fash­ion line or be­come a weird Homeland blog­ger fan,” she says of the TV show she avidly watches.

His­tor­i­cally, if there’s some­thing go­ing on some­where, Chung has of­ten found her­self at the epi­cen­tre. Fash­ion Zeit­geist? She’s started them. A tele­vi­sion show? She’s hosted both the mu­sic and fash­ion types. Books? She’s writ­ten one. She’s fa­mously re­counted that a lot of this was not her ac­tive choice. “The prob­lem is I didn’t re­ally start in fash­ion. At 15 I was mod­el­ling and then I gave up and then I did TV,” she says. “The rest of my in­volve­ment in the in­dus­try was kind of like other peo­ple say­ing: ‘What are you wear­ing?’ and ‘Do this mag­a­zine!’ and ‘What are you wear­ing now?’, ‘Come and sit at this fash­ion show!’ and: ‘What are you wear­ing?’,” she says in mock par­rot­ing of the press cir­cus.

After a stint on Bri­tish mu­sic show Pop­world, Chung moved to New York for an MTV pre­sent­ing job. Next came cam­paigns with brands like L’Oréal, Longchamp and Su­perga, as did sell-out col­lab­o­ra­tions with AG Denim, Madewell and Marks & Spencer. Chung, though, was just rid­ing with it. “I think in the mid­dle I felt like I’d lost my way a bit and felt a bit vac­u­ous,” she re­calls. “I sort of started feel­ing like a he­lium bal­loon that had floated away too far … There was a bit when I was like: ‘Oh, I gave up ev­ery­thing for this in­ter­view, and no-one even knew that I did it’.”

She’s not play­ing poor lit­tle fa­mous girl though. She now ap­pre­ci­ates that it sat­is­fied her cre­atively. “At the end of the day it doesn’t mat­ter what any­one gave me; what they gave me was an out­let of ex­pres­sion for my brain, which I re­alise I value more than any­thing else,” she says. “I’m grate­ful that peo­ple have pro­pelled me into this po­si­tion.”

With the Alex­achung la­bel, it is the first time she’s been able to marry up her skill sets – writ­ing, brand­ing, de­sign­ing, pre­sent­ing – into a sin­gle am­bi­tion. Her name alone is omi­nously on ev­ery­thing. “[It] took a bit of a psy­cho­log­i­cal step to com­mit and to stand by it, and even to call it my own name, be­cause shit, there’s no hid­ing be­hind that.” The la­bel is a mas­cu­line-fem­i­nine blend of Brian Jones meets Ge­orge Har­ri­son rock’n’roll suit­ing, tea dresses and leather out­er­wear. Bri­tish clas­si­cism creeps in with gabar­dine A-line skirts and trenches. A cheongsam-style mini-dress in smoke blue with gob­stop­per pearl fas­ten­ings en­cap­su­lates a vin­tage lilt with a youth­ful ec­cen­tric­ity, as do striped mo­hair grandpa jumpers. Di­vided into four col­lec­tions a year, it is party, week­end, work and hol­i­day ap­pro­pri­ate. Jew­ellery, shoes and denim fill out the gaps in be­tween.

Priced be­tween $150 and $2,500, some pieces sold out hours after the see-now-buy-now late-May launch on Alex­, as they are also likely to on, and other top-end stock­ists. The col­lec­tion is mainly man­u­fac­tured in Por­tu­gal, while the leather and denim pieces are made in Italy; jack­ets come from the same fac­to­ries as Lan­vin and Dolce & Gab­bana.

The team be­hind it Chung per­son­ally se­lected: manag­ing di­rec­tor Ed­win Bod­son is the for­mer com­mer­cial di­rec­tor at Haider Ack­er­mann, and the rest just fit. “They’re cer­tainly not like fans,” she says of the Shored­itch stu­dio em­ploy­ees. “One girl came in … I loved be­cause she in no way pan­dered to me. She came in a track­suit and talked about Arse­nal. I hate foot­ball and I was like: ‘Oh well, this girl ob­vi­ously hasn’t Google-im­aged [me] and has no idea what I’m into.’”

It will be hard for most to detach what they know of Chung from her de­signs with her level of vis­i­bil­ity. When this is put to her, she’s di­rect. “I can’t be fully ob­jec­tive, be­cause I’m in­side of my own body, but I’m re­ally in­trigued by whether that’s a ques­tion that’s ap­pli­ca­ble to Is­abel Marant or Stella McCart­ney or any other fe­male de­signer. Do they de­sign for them­selves or do they de­sign ac­cord­ing to what they’re dream­ing up?” Per­haps it would be fairest to say that her style and her out­put in de­sign terms are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked. “It might be the case that Is­abel Marant’s clothes are an ex­ten­sion of her per­sonal style,” she con­tin­ues, “not that any­one is go­ing to hang me on the hook for that, be­cause I’ve been known for that and it doesn’t dis­credit what we’ve been mak­ing, but I think it could limit the scope of the brand if I were to just think of things I would wear,” she says.

She’s grap­pling with some­thing that fol­lows a lot of women who ex­pand their per­sonal brand into a com­mer­cial en­tity. Crit­ics had sharp­ened pen­cils at the ready for Vic­to­ria Beck­ham, the Olsens at The Row, and Karlie Kloss. The for­mer two par­ties have proved their de­sign mus­cle time and again, Kloss si­lenced her crit­ics with her in­tel­li­gent en­deav­ours, and Chung for one is not pur­port­ing to be some­thing she’s not. “I try not to com­pare my­self,” she says. “I think I have an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for all the amaz­ing de­sign­ers – like Er­dem or Christo­pher Kane or J.W. An­der­son – they are phe­nom­e­nally tal­ented, but I just don’t see my­self as do­ing the same thing in many ways … I’m not Margiela.”

Her sharp, street-wise ap­proach to life comes from be­ing ex­posed to the draw­backs of not just one, but many jobs. She shrugs off a lot, in­clud­ing the idea that she may be in­ter­est­ing to write about. “I’m pretty dull,” she says. She’s en­gaged though, and uses her so­cial me­dia plat­forms to sup­port equal­ity, beam out anti-Trump sen­ti­ment and en­cour­age peo­ple to vote. “I would hope that I am shout­ing about equal­ity and women’s rights,” she says, be­fore ask­ing, con­cerned, if I think that it’s clear from the out­side (it is). She doesn’t feel that fash­ion has be­come any less al­lur­ing as a whole. “I nearly puked yes­ter­day, be­cause I bought some Is­abel Marant trousers and I thought they were the most beau­ti­ful thing I’d ever seen! I get re­ally ex­cited.”

Alexa Chung the la­bel is an un­prece­dented set­ting down of roots for Alexa Chung the per­son. “There’s like a base­line ful­fil­ment or feel­ing like I’m home. It’s re­ally weird to de­scribe,” she says. “I’ve man­aged to tether my­self to some­thing that is a bit more weighty.” Al­though the he­lium bal­loon has de­scended to­ward ground level, she still has ties in both New York and Lon­don. For now, she’s Lon­don-based to be close to the Shored­itch stu­dio. “Un­til any­one reads this, my friends will still think I live in New York and they’ll get re­ally up­set with me,” she says, laugh­ing.

She’s sud­denly se­ri­ous and con­cen­trates on the next ques­tion re­lat­ing to what are­nas she might yet ex­plore cre­atively. The an­swer, though, is char­ac­ter­is­tic Chung droll­ness. “I went to this bar in New York. It’s a tiny bar and the guy run­ning it had this karaoke ma­chine, which meant he got to sing ev­ery fourth song, and I was like: ‘Oh my god, that is my dream job!’” What she maybe can’t shrug off with dry wit and a laugh is that if all goes well, this cur­rent one might al­ready be it.

Alexa Chung wears an Alex­achung top, $675, and dress, $2,260. Diane von Fursten­berg scarf, $240. Stylist’s own vin­tage beret. Fash­ion de­tails last pages.

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