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“You’ve just missed me catwalking the finale,” says Alexa Chung, eyes popping against smoky makeup that holds a hint of iridescence (which glimmers in London’s gray, tip-of-autumn light). She is seated in the conference room of her office, wearing a bubblegum pink cable-knit sweater and an enamel ring featuring a yin-yang symbol. Outside the conference room, a pre–Fashion Week scene unfolds: iPhone alarms are ringing unchecked, staffers are zigzagging about. Despite this, Chung is unfazed; she is impeccably low-key stylish, and, it seems, at ease, sipping a flat white. “I’m not actually walking in the show—I was just testing it out,” she clarifies.
Chung started her namesake label, Alexachung, in 2016. Her aesthetic and output seems to put the “ready” in ready-to-wear (much as with her own stylistic presentation). Point being: Alexachung’s dresses, blazers, trousers, and more evoke a transatlantic confidence and possess a certain sense of knowing, all without ever veering into too-abstract territory. They are purposeful clothes, but with Chung’s imprimatur of cool.
While Chung has held presentations for her line before, she will host her first ever official runway show on London Fashion Week’s calendar this coming Saturday. To help facilitate the milestone, Chung partnered with American Express—which, of late, has ramped up its alignments with creatives around the world (earlier this week, Pharrell hosted the inaugural Yellow Ball in New York City with the company). Here, the Englishwoman turned New Yorker turned Londoner once again, talks with Vogue Runway about everything from hotel parties to her dream office to . . . well, her big homecoming.
Hello, Alexa. We see you have your show invite in front of you—are these boarding passes? Yes, they are. We created a fake logo of a travel company, it’s a little joke. ‘AC World Travel Inc.’ The show is called ‘Arrivals and Departures,’ which brings to mind an airport departure lounge. But that’s kind of a Trojan house. The real message is that it’s about a transition, saying goodbye, to America, and saying hello to something new. I lived in New York for seven years, and moved back to London two years ago, but only within the last year have made this my permanent home without doing so much of the transatlantic commute.
But you’re happy here, right? Yes! It is far easier to move back somewhere where you grew up than it is to move somewhere that you’re unfamiliar with. That said, I will always feel an affinity for New York City.
You are no doubt a figure, though, in and of British fashion. And you know so much about it, with your TV-hosting background and modeling background and now having your own company. Can you single out any favorite moments in British fashion history? When I was growing up, the Alexander McQueen shows were always a spectacle. A British designer of that caliber . . . I just remember being, like, Oh my God, that’s someone from our country and our system who is not only inventive but, really, he is reinventing the space. I remember his bumster pants in particular—remember when the ass was out? That was pretty scandalous at the time. But, clothes-wise, I’m not a huge McQueen aficionado. I’m more of a Margaret Howell kind of guy . . . [Editor’s note: If you think this is a typo, it’s not. Chung has a charmingly disarming sense of humor.]
Interesting. Margaret for her clothes, Lee for his showmanship? I love McQueen, but Margaret Howell is more my speed. I admire her and her clothes because they are reliable, in a very tasteful way. They’re not boring, but they’re not showy.
Do you remember your first fashion show? So I was actually in central London, shopping, and I had no idea that Fashion Week was even really . . . occurring. I was with my friend Silvia, and she said, “Oh, I’m going to go to the Topshop space, there’s a show there,” and I said, “Um, okay, cool.” She asked if I wanted to come along. I did not have an invite, but I managed to get in, so I stood in the back of this Topshop show, wearing a hood. They kindly offered me a seat, but I stayed back, sort of just . . . observing it all.
Fashion weeks, everywhere, are generally pretty lively after the runaround that happens during the day. Do you have any favorite social memories from the parties? Well, there’s that famous quote: “If you remember it, you weren’t there.” To be honest, all of the parties are a bit of a blur. But I do remember one London Fashion Week, about five years ago, I kind of . . . moved into the Edition Hotel, because I lived in very far East London. After the shows I’d just invite friends, all of whom also lived in East London, to have our own little Fashion Week party in my room. Someone was paying for our Champagne! I will say: The shindigs during London Fashion Week are always great—it’s always bizarro-land.
What’s your take, at present, on the current state of the fashion industry and the sort of . . . ongoing fog, let’s call it, about where we’re heading? Remember when this happened when the bloggers came on the scene and everyone got really paranoid, like, “It’s the death knell of fashion!” Ultimately, we’re still going to have to wear clothes. Fashion itself will continue to exist, but we are at a crossroads where people are questioning the industry’s ways, and we continuously have to adapt to shorter attention spans. I think that what will happen is this: expansion. Space for the art of couture, and the large fashion houses that are gobbled up worldwide, but then elsewhere, on a smaller scale, there will be a bit of cleaning house. I think it’s not enough to be just the middle-of-the-road anymore. And it’s challenging to define yourself and differentiate yourself. You kind of have to just . . . shout a bit louder, get more inventive, and become more inclusive. This will all lead to an expanded fashion landscape.
At Alexachung, too, you are evolving. Most notably, building in a, let’s call it, traditional delivery window alongside see-now-buy-now, which was the sales practice with which your company launched . . . In the beginning, it would have been really ballsy to welcome the pressure of having to do a full show and follow the established rules. And I felt that this was the way fashion was going to go, that the see-now-buy-now model would be the best thing, in regards to including our customers, responding more quickly, and being more . . . direct. However, even though this mindset exists, the machinery to get it done is a bit . . . clunkier. It’s harder for that to be altered as quickly. Also, I did begin to appreciate the art of slower fashion and taking your time and really hammering home a concept. As much as I relished being a sort of renegade thing in the corner, it’s more, now, about being rebellious but within a proper structure instead of willy-nilly going out and hoping for the best. This all being said, we will still continue to drop things on a see-now-buy-now basis in between collections.
Tell us about the debut LFW runway show, if you can give any sneak-peek details. We’ve had such fun doing these bonkers presentations in the past. We made a diorama in Japan. We did an American prom-gone-wrong in Paris. We’ve done a Bingo hall in Germany. We’ve done so many weird and wonderful things, and I don’t want that to be discontinued. But with London Fashion Week, we were lucky enough to be given a time slot by the British Fashion Council, and I think doing a formal show sort of speaks to how seriously I take this business and how seriously I want others to take it. I think the collection deserves a more traditional setting as a way to be seen. It’s an ambitious thing, though. Yes, we are part of the official week, but we want the show to be unexpected. That took some support, and American Express have helped us create this kind of dream set and narrative. They’ve got this heritage now in terms of being able to support upcoming talents, and providing those talents with an amazing network.
What is one thing that you fantasize about in this job? A fashion pipe dream, if you will? Being Mrs. Prada. I want an office with a slide that comes out of it.
Same. But, in all seriousness, as we face an industry in flux, longevity is somewhat of a pipe dream, too, because . . . who knows what will happen? We’ve set Alexachung up as lean and nimble and ready to adjust. The crew on this ship is not afraid of change or adaptation. There’s got to be a phrase here . . .
They’re ready to hoist the proverbial sails? Yeah!
A selection from the Alexachung Spring/Summer 2019 collection will be available in a pop-up shop curated by Colette founder Sarah Andelman at the American Express Platinum House (Old Central St. Martins Building, 12-48 Southampton Row). The activation is accessible to American Express Platinum and Centurion card holders, and runs through September 16.