'I'm an introvert who got corrupted.'
She's your girl next door, but she could easily be the girl on the billboard across your street. Alexa Chung has maintained that incredibly influential British homespun appeal in the public eye for almost 20 years.
Her list of work titles over the decades remain extensive — writer, muse to many, handbag phenom, social media queen, television presenter, model and socialite. She’s donned many hats but never having to comprise her momentum. The latest phase in the Chung dynasty recently began at London Fashion Week in September where her inaugural show attracted high praise for it’s accessible, intuitive yet sophisticated look. Her influence being – a jet-setting almost rootless nostalgic lifestyle.
London will always remain the heart of her magical world, but it’s the Paris, New York and LA triangle where she draws most inspiration. As she describes to us – her mind is like a floating mood board. In this at times dizzying exchange, we sail through Alexa’s snappy, self-deprecating humour up close, yet the real treat here, is learning about her deeper philosophy, which is that life is all just a bit ridiculous.
"I've always chosen jobs that seem slightly scary."
Alexa's approach to work
Considering you’re an accomplished interviewer, I thought perhaps a good place to start this interview would be to ask how you would begin this interview with yourself?
Well, funny you say that I actually have a questions file on my phone which I have kept for potential future television shows. I’m just wondering if I have something good in there. Actually, half of what’s in here is karaoke songs. Sad, one of my questions in here was, who are you sending your sunsets to?
That is sad. Ok, so what is your go-to chosen karaoke song?
Well, I have graduated to a place where I don’t even need to rely on a karaoke crutch. Or is that karaoke crotch?
Because all of my friends in New York and London go so frequently that we get bored with each other’s songs, I used to sing ‘Because The Night’ by Patti Smith, it’s good because it has a low range. I’ve also been trying to master that song. [humming].
Oh, you mean La Bamba?
Yes. At the moment I’m also trying to learn La Boheme which is not a karaoke banger. However, I thought learning a song in French would be impressive.
You have interviewed many people. Would you say your work is a lot about connecting with people?
Yes. There are some different things that motivate me, it’s usually about educating myself. I’ve always chosen jobs that seem slightly scary, and I know I will learn a lot. Interviewing is a suitable conduit for that.
Does interviewing people scare you?
It depends what the context is. I’m not expected to be an authority on certain people; I’m learning about them as are the audience. So I prefer when it’s a shared experience.
However, when I was doing music shows many years ago, well let’s just say musicians sometimes lack perspective because often they are raging narcissists. They usually expect you to know they’re entire back catalogue so it can be difficult to interview them. Sometimes if I was underprepared, I would feel out of my depth.
Also, I’m only interested in music my ear is drawn to, so sometimes if I was interviewing a big techno DJ or another artist I wouldn’t necessarily connect with them.
So, Panic At The Disco?
I did my research.
Very good. You know that he [Brendon Urie] just issued a public apology?
I saw it. I thought it was lovely actually.
Did you enjoy it?
I thought it was sweet.
His apology was lovely.
We were young, and he was high, and I was terrified. But look, I regret ever being judgmental or making anyone feel anything negative towards creating something, because even the act of creating is about putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable.
And if it’s something you believe in and I waltz into that room and say track three is a bit shit do you want to explain that? It is not right.
So having tried a lot of stuff in your career such as being DJ, interviewer, author and so forth. Do you find you have become less fearful? I mean you’re a fashion designer, you’ve come out of the closet so to speak?
Even a couple of days ago, I was thinking about how much more competent I am doing the job as opposed to at the beginning. I was in a fortunate position where I was able to secure funding so that I could employ very talented people. And that was an imperative given my lack of education. But I think I’m grateful how patient my team have been, even yesterday we started a new collection which will be available in a year, and they were like “Oh, you want organza?” And I was like “No, I think it should be georgette.” And they were like, “what?” I started to sound like I knew what I was doing. But it doesn’t feel fluent yet.
So your fashion vocabulary is organic by default you’ve built up this knowledge. But you didn’t go to fashion school?
I think I’m just very passionate about clothes, yesterday I went to dinner at Dover Street Market store for Sotheby’s. My friend was organising it. I was wearing a big yellow coat. My friend looked at me and said: “I was wondering what that big yellow thing was over there and it was you shopping.” I guess I just love looking at things.
The only education I have had up until this fashion line was through observing, picking and wearing for myself. It’s like being a record collector who doesn’t have a band yet and then after that, jumping into the deep end and seeing how it works.
In that sense of approaching things would you say you are an introvert or extrovert?
I think I’m an introvert who got corrupted. I was chronically shy at school.
Do you think people would be surprised to know that?
Depends on whom you ask, my best friend Lizzie knows that. When I started modelling very young, I would take my dad or sister with me, and at a certain point, I had to pretend to be open, I feel I created a character at 15, I felt if I could pretend then it would be fine, but I still hate being caught off guard.
I hate running into people when you’re not expected to see them. That’s usually when all the bricks fall down.
"I can't give anyone advice because part of the reason for my style is it reflects how I'm feeling."
Alexa's fashion advice
Regarding where you’re at in your career. Would you say there is a particular trope that you would say is outdated or past its expiry date?
I don’t think so much now. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in myself I just used to be more on top of reading up on myself. Maybe the stakes were higher than they are now. I have stopped being curious about myself on the internet, I used to confidently Google myself, but now I don’t know what they still think. I suppose I see what’s still being asked. That’s a trope in itself about this era I’m in.
What phase is this called?
[Laughing] I don’t know; I’ll have to name the different dynasties. I saw a man the other day who said that you live your life in seven-year cycles. That’s true. Because I got scouted at 15, started hosting music shows at 22.
What happened at 7?
I loved 7. I just loved school. The thing at 7 was that I always got to hang out at sports day with my best friend Ben Monday, we were both team captains, that was a great day.
Speaking of tropes, one thing that perhaps doesn’t get recognised about you is that you’re funny. You’re cheeky.
But can it be a trope if it is not recognised?
Well, that’s what I’m saying, I think this should be a trope.
Well, that’s why I love Edwin [Bodson], my managing director a lot. Because often people think ambition or the balls to try something comes from a serious place but what if it comes from an understanding of the ridiculous. I’m prepared to try and fail. But mostly I think things are funny all the time.
Is that why you do things?
Well, I was trying to write a role for a job that’s coming up and discussed what’s important. And I was like humour! That is it. If you can align with that, that’s a perspective on the world and chances are everything will follow. But the thing that I have found with Edwin is if we didn’t find things funny then it would be hard.
Well, life is quite hard, it’s good to laugh sometimes and to have someone to enjoy it with? But someone asked you a question recently in an interview; actually, I hate paraphrasing questions from other people, I feel like I’m on Hard Talk.
Do you? I think you’re lying.
Yes, I do, I hardly do it. But this interviewer said, “Do you feel like you have to constantly prove the seriousness of your intentions in this business?” And you said, “Yes, I often use humour as a defence mechanism.”
Well, I’m told I do, but I don’t feel like I do. Also, that is the way I was raised, my whole family are like that.
So its more like cheeky?
[Image] Alexa Chung SS19
So lets shift gears for a second. I like your ideas about pop culture because you take a lot of inspiration from films, music, icons, art, poetry and fashion. Would you say pop culture and its history are a key inspiration guide to what you do?
I can’t ever figure out what the thread is.
But is it like a mood board?
My mind is a floating mood board at all times. No, I don’t know what it is.
Because it seems there is nostalgia even in your fashion line.
Well, I’m desperate for newness, but my style is also made up of ‘in-winks’. People have sometimes counted on my looks in the public domain such as me wearing loafers, Barbour jackets, hot pants whatever it is, but it is always coming from a place of irony. I thought it was funny to dress like a Hampshire mum. But if you are not in on the joke its just a beautiful dress. And if you are, then it’s different, and it’s fine.
So would you say that the people who are inspired by you, who buy or have bought or have been influenced by the clothes you wear – as you are a style icon? I don’t know if you are comfortable with that statement.
[Looking embarrassed] Oh, stop it.
Do you think they get the in-joke or nostalgia? Or are they quite literal about what you’re aiming for and say I’m buying it?
I don’t think it matters. Some people come into our showroom and say this is amazing. Name-checking Bowie and making the right references, they understood what I am trying to express. And then other people will come in and say they do not get it and say we are going to need more single-breasted jackets, that don’t work for us.
I don’t think people need to understand what it is as long as it makes them feel good, and I am hoping to distil some attitude or energy into the clothes so that they have a magic power to them.
For example, I recently saw a girl at the Country Music Awards, she looked so badass in this outfit, I made a positive comment on her Instagram, but that specific outfit didn’t have an original Bryan Ferry reference or someone cool as a cucumber. You could see she was feeling great and that she gets the message.
Let’s end this interview with a quick-fire session. Does that work for you?
Hm, as a format?
Well, I’m changing the format.
People misunderstand the point of quick-fire.
But I’m changing it to medium-fire.
These are not quick, they are deeper, and they take time to answer. So when was the last time you cried?
If I see a friend crying I cry, but I was with my friend yesterday, and her dog is not well, and I made a joke about it and she starting welling up, and then I started crying. But other than that, last time I cried was when we did a pop up/fashion show, and I had to fly to Sydney, New Zealand, Santiago, London, Paris. When I got back to London, I called my agent and told her to fuck off and then cried.
Because they made you travel everywhere?
Well, this is the argument, she said it was my fault and I told her you’re meant to be looking after me because I can’t look after myself. I cried as I was telling her to fuck off, but it wasn’t her fault. It was out of frustration of not being able to point any finger because I put myself in that position.
"When I woke up Ben Affleck and Jason Bourne were queuing up for the loo and having a chat, and I thought I was in a fever dream, it was so weird."
Alexa Ching on her party experiences
What person do you think deserves more attention for their work?
Oh my god. Loads of people. As someone who is in the public domain?
Even if they are in the spotlight and they should have more attention or also a complete unknown.
It’s tough because I feel there are a lot of people that get too much attention for lack of talent. [Whispers] I’d probably say that about myself.
Did you just say you think you’re one of those?
Probably. [laughing] No, I was thinking if I was reading this, I’d be like, “Yeah bitch.”
Ok, let’s pass on that one. The craziest party you ever attended?
Well, I’ve been lucky to attend some strange events. This wasn’t the craziest party I’ve been to but certainly the craziest I’ve woken up into.
I went to a Golden Globes afterparty, and I was really ill, I had a cold, but I agreed to go there with my friend. We were in the Chateau Marmont in LA, and it’s funny because three of the best parties I have ever attended have been in the same setting.
One was for Mulberry where we rode a giant glittery leopard statue into a pool. The second one was where I woke up in one of the bedrooms, it was also where the only loo was when I woke up. But just to give you a bit of background, I’m a huge Bourne fan.
I thought you said porn fan.
So weird, everyone thinks I say porn. No, I love Jason Bourne, so when I woke up Ben Affleck and Jason Bourne were queuing up for the loo and having a chat, and I thought I was in a fever dream, it was so weird.
Lastly, what piece of style would you discourage women to wear, what one piece of clothing?
Well, this is the whole point, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to tell people that, I’m not an expert, I think everyone should be able to wear what he or she wants.
No, I can’t give anyone advice because part of the reason for my style is it reflects how I’m feeling. It’s emotional, so I can’t possibly know how you feel or what your version of a power dress is.
Well I know one thing I would love to see guys wear less of.
Yes, what’s that?
Blue French workers jacket, I’m so sick of that piece of clothing, why hasn’t it died yet.
[Laughing] Bill Cunningham.
Yes, Bill Cunningham [late New York Times photographer] he was great and the original. But I’ve been to so many countries this year, and I’m amazed at how much its penetrated the hipster circles.
That’s like a tribe of people who nod to each other.
And they’re all in startups.
And they’re all at bluebottle coffee.
Yes, and at 6 pm they put it on and go for cocktails. And they’re like I’m different, but they are not.
Well to be fair, I wish women would wear blue jackets instead of wearing shitty crop tops. Although It’s very mumsy to say things like I remember the 90s.
Here’s what I think about that whole thing, I don’t have a stylist, but every other person does. I think everyone should be more transparent rather than all have stylists.
Everyone is a style icon and a celebrity at the moment, but their stylists are dressing them, how is that they their own thing? If I were to pay a stylist to work round the clock for me picking out my beanie and caterpillar boots, I would wear something much better.