Can Alexa Chung be­come the Tory Burch of Eng­land?

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - VANESSA FRIEDMAN New York Times News Ser­vice

When Alexa Chung — the 32-year-old English It Girl/tele­vi­sion host/Madewell col­lab­o­ra­tor/Bri­tish Vogue con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor known for com­bin­ing loafers with tiny tea dresses, and high-waisted denim shorts with tai­lored jack­ets — an­nounced this week that she was start­ing her own fash­ion brand, her myr­iad style fol­low­ers greeted the news with parox­ysms of joy.

Com­par­isons to that other English per­son­al­ity who traded pop-culture star­dom for in­dus­try cred­i­bil­ity, Vic­to­ria Beck­ham, were sud­denly rife.

It seemed as if Chung could be the next can­di­date for the celebrity-turned-de­signer crown.

But there’s an­other fe­male en­trepreneur whose style ca­reer may be more apro­pos, and per­haps pro­vide some clues as to what to ex­pect when Chung’s line de­buts in May 2017.

Is Alexa Chung go­ing to be Bri­tain’s an­swer to Tory Burch? The sim­i­lar­i­ties are strik­ing.

Like Burch, for ex­am­ple, who went to the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, Chung was not for­mally trained as a de­signer. De­cid­ing whether to study art or English in col­lege, she took a year off, started mak­ing com­mer­cials, and that was that.

Like Burch (who worked for Ralph Lau­ren and Vera Wang in ad­ver­tis­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions), she later spent a lot of time around the fash­ion world. She was a model and then a col­lab­o­ra­tor and muse for brands like Mul­berry, which named a hand­bag af­ter her; Marks & Spencer, for which she has cu­rated two “ar­chive” col­lec­tions, wherein she chooses her favourite pieces from the brand’s past and up­dates them; and AG jeans, for which she is a face.

That gave her, she said by phone from Swe­den on Monday, “a le­git­i­macy in my own mind.”

“I al­ways had it in my head that de­sign­ing was some­thing I was keen to do,” she said, “but I was dis­suaded by mod­el­ling agents who saw the ter­ri­ble kit I was cob­bling to­gether, and so it didn’t oc­cur to me to pur­sue it as a se­ri­ous op­tion un­til I saw the brands I was work­ing with tak­ing me se­ri­ously.” There’s more. Like Burch, she saw a gap in the mar­ket for clothes like those she likes to wear, at a con­tem­po­rary price, and de­cided to fill it.

“It will prob­a­bly be tomboy­ish but also very fem­i­nine, very wear­able and of the mo­ment and re­spon­sive to culture,” Chung said of her col­lec­tion. “It’s not go­ing to be wildly dif­fer­ent from what you would ex­pect, given how I dress. Just very well de­signed.”

Though she orig­i­nally wanted to pro­duce her line en­tirely in Bri­tain, she has had to come to terms with the fact that to achieve the prices she de­sires (and as to what those are ex­actly, “I don’t specif­i­cally know”), she will prob­a­bly have to go far­ther afield. Per­haps quite far afield, given the Brexit ef­fect on Bri­tish cur­rency.

Like Burch, who in­tro­duced her line with small pre­sen­ta­tions, Chung is not plan­ning a big fash­ion week blowout, but rather some­thing more cre­ative. Still, she will have four col­lec­tions a year, and she said she “re­spects the struc­ture of the in­dus­try as it stands.”

And as with Burch, part of the ap­peal of Chung’s brand (which, like Burch’s, bears her name) will be her own per­sona.

That is, to be fair, some­what dif­fer­ent from Burch’s im­age of preppy su­per­woman/mother of three/step­mother of three/ ten­nis star, kayaker and all-around week­end ath­lete, be­ing more “in­cred­i­bly hip girl about town with quirky per­sonal style some­times dating movie stars” (most re­cently Alexan­der Skars­gard). She has an even big­ger In­sta­gram fol­low­ing than Burch (2.3 mil­lion vs. 1.2 mil­lion).

There are a few other dif­fer­ences, no­tably the fact that un­like Burch, who be­gan her com­pany in con­junc­tion with her hus­band at the time, Chris Burch, she has found back­ing in the form of an un­named en­tity.

“It’s a Bri­tish backer, who I met through friends, at a firm with ex­pe­ri­ence in­vest­ing in fash­ion as well as other ar­eas,” she said. “But I have been ex­plic­itly told not to talk about it, so I can’t tell you their name.” (As to why she was told not to talk about it, she said she was not sure, but thought maybe the in­vestor just wanted to re­main in the back­ground.) That has en­abled her to hire a team of 10 peo­ple, in­clud­ing the de­signer Ed­win Bod­son, for­merly of Haider Ack­er­mann.

Also, un­like Burch, she plans to con­tinue her mul­ti­ple ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

“I have an en­ergy prob­lem,” she said. “I can’t sit still. I hope I am still able to host TV shows and col­lab­o­rate with other brands while do­ing my own brand, be­cause it’s what keeps me in­ter­ested and gives me ideas. But it’s un­charted ter­ri­tory, so we will see.”

Whether she can achieve the suc­cess of Burch, whose brand was val­ued at $3.5 bil­lion af­ter 10 years, re­mains to be seen.

But Chung is un­der no il­lu­sions as to what will make the dif­fer­ence.

“Prod­uct,” she said.

,GETTY

Alexa Chung at­tends of "The Leg­end Of Tarzan" in Lon­don ear­lier this month.

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