Not content with conquering just one field, a little more than three years ago, model, presenter, author and all-round arbiter of taste Alexa Chung launched her eponymous fashion line. While ‘creative director’ may be the latest chapter in Chung’s multi-faceted career, in many ways this move sees her story come full circle. Even as a young girl growing up in the British countryside, she was precociously preoccupied with clothes. “My interest in fashion first manifested itself as concern over my school uniform, ballet outfits and riding gear,” says Chung. She was still in high school when she told teachers she planned on becoming a fashion journalist – although she admits, self-deprecatingly, that “being an ‘it’ girl isn’t really something you can get career guidance on”.
The 36-year-old may downplay it, but it’s difficult to overstate the impact she’s had on fashion. It’s been a decade since she was first awarded the British Fashion Council’s British Style Award – an accolade that “recognizes an individual who embodies the spirit of British fashion and is an international ambassador for the UK as a leading creative hub for fashion”, and is voted for by the public. She went on to take the same award home in 2011 and 2012. No surprise, really, for a woman who has inspired countless cult fashion trends and collaborated on sell-out capsules over the years.
A champion of new and emerging talent, earlier this year she appeared on screens across the globe hosting Netflix's Next in Fashion alongside Tan France; the perfect role for a woman who is all too familiar with the myriad challenges facing designers today. “No one really talks about how immensely stressful building a label can be; it’s not all about cute clothes – it’s about margins, fabrics and accounts. It’s been a long journey, and quite a trip.” Read on to discover the ultimate multi-hyphenate’s career and style secrets…
Forge your own path
“Experimenting with various roles is quite a millennial thing; careers have become less formulaic and linear. As a designer, my experience as a presenter is actually a huge asset, especially when it comes to the sales and marketing side of things. Being on camera is second nature to me; I’m comfortable when it comes to modeling, talking about the brand or recording for our YouTube channel. I thought about launching my own label for a long time before I did it; I actually secured funding about three years before I established ALEXACHUNG, but I wanted to wait until I was old enough, or at least mature enough, to take on the responsibility. I knew the business side of things would be tough, I just didn’t know how tough. Of course, over the years I always found it flattering to be considered a muse. My label is about more than just making clothes under my own name; it’s also about claiming back my identity, which I felt had become co-opted by a lot of other people, and it feels good.”
I soon realized I had to follow my instincts and create collections full of pieces that I really liked and wanted to wear, as opposed to trying to impress other people”
“It’s difficult to recall because people are more open-minded now, and the industry changes so quickly, but even a few years ago there was real hostility towards ‘celebrity’ labels. They needed provenance and legitimacy; even Kanye interned at Fendi before he launched Yeezy. When I first launched my brand, it was focusing too much on what the outside perception would be that tripped me up. I convinced myself that people expected me to be the new Prada or Gucci, but I was my own harshest critic. I soon realized I had to follow my instincts and create collections full of pieces that I really liked and wanted to wear, as opposed to trying to impress other people. As a brand, I’m so proud of everything we’ve created, and we really understand who we are at this point, but it was definitely a challenge to get there.”
Embrace the power of ‘no’
“Before I founded my brand, I was always very happy and comfortable with saying no – whether it was to an interview or a red-carpet appearance – because, as a lone ranger, those decisions only concerned me and my image. However, when it came to founding my business and working alongside people who are brilliant at what they do, I actually began to find it really difficult to say no. I think I had a bit of imposter syndrome, and it made the creative process really challenging. Culturally, it tends to be a female trait, wanting to accommodate and being afraid to offend, but there’s always a nice way to say no and I think people respect that. It wasn’t until I overcame that feeling that I really believed in what we were creating.”
My style is all about wearing the right thing at the wrong time. I’ll happily pair a cocktail dress with flat shoes, or track pants with high heels”
Disregard the rules
“Fashion should be fun! I don’t have a nine-to-five look. I spend half my time in the office, trying on new pieces we’re working on. My style is all about wearing the right thing at the wrong time. I’ll happily pair a cocktail dress with flat shoes, or track pants with high heels. For me, getting dressed is about channeling a vibe or enhancing my mood. So, if I’m not feeling too confident, I’ll pull something from my closet that can rectify that; it’s about reacting to the moment. I learnt a long time ago that the way you dress has a huge impact on people’s perception of you. Whether you enjoy fashion or not, experimenting with clothes allows you to play with your identity.”
Have a point of view
“I love designers who tell stories through their clothes but still manage to make something wearable, like Simone Rocha. With ALEXACHUNG, I’m always striving to create classics that you can keep and wear forever, so when I wear other labels, I enjoy indulging in a little fantasy. Our FW20 collection, Suburban Punk, was inspired by the 1970s BBC sitcom The Good Life and punk music. It’s about the dichotomy between a younger generation being swept up in this movement that’s all about angry music, protest and DIY culture, versus a generation just a few years older who opted for cozy, quiet suburban lives. I wanted to find the middle ground between total anarchy and utter tranquillity. I can’t wait to wear our leather trousers – they’re much more practical than they first appear; I know when winter creeps in, I’ll be wearing them just as much as my jeans. I’ll also be putting an unexpected spin on workwear with our split mini skirt – it has sexy exec written all over it.”
I keep my clothes forever because, for the most part, I only invest in classics. I love timeless pieces, plus they’re super-easy to update each season”
“I keep my clothes forever because, for the most part, I only invest in classics. I’ve been wearing the same leather jacket for the past ten years. I love timeless pieces, plus they’re super-easy to update each season. I’m very into chain necklaces right now, and I’m a big fan of all the new Bottega Veneta accessories – the shoes and bags are amazing. My approach to beauty varies depending on the agenda that day, and my mood. I don’t tend to wear makeup to work – mostly because I can’t be bothered to get up early – but if I have a meeting or I’m going out with friends, I’ll apply some. At the moment, I quite like terracotta tones, so I’ll go for blushes and eyeshadows in warm neutral shades and finish with Code8’s peachy Universal Lip Gloss. Other days, I might put a little glitter on my eyelids for daytime, then if I’m going out and wearing a party dress, I might go bare-faced but do an interesting hairstyle. It’s all about balance.”