‘It Girl was a huge insult’: Alexa Chung on ageing and taking control of her career
The adjustment wasn’t easy to come to terms with initially. “I did have meltdowns in the first lockdown. I cried in a field and my boyfriend was like, ‘Why are you crying?’ I think it’s because I’ve never not been busy.”
“I was tired and going a bit loopy…This situation has forced me to live at a normal pace.”
Alexa and Orson Fry, 26, frontman of the band Soundtown, have been dating since 2019. Their lockdown life has involved, in her words, “living together-apart. It’s quite fun. He lives in west London, I live east.”
A lot has changed, but for Alexa, succumbing to a grey tracksuit was never an option. “It’s just not my vibe,” she confirms. “I still take great pleasure from getting dressed.”
Retailers across the UK have been hit hard during the pandemic. For Alexa, keeping the fashion dream alive on social media has been a professional necessity as much as a personal hobby. She founded her eponymous label in 2017, selling quirky but classic clothes and shoes, and says her company, which employs 22 people, has been able to weather the storm better than many.
“We’re not a large business,” she notes. “Some deliveries were affected. But we don’t have any physical shops, so we don’t have stock sitting there without being able to reach customers.”
Alexa’s spring 2021 collection, “Vertigo”, was conceived pre-pandemic yet, in an example of the oracle at work again, was inspired by horror films and movies with a general sense of unease.
“Isn’t it weird?” she says. “I was looking at The Shining, Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. The collection before that [autumn 2020] was about a global catastrophe that forced people to live underground and grow their own vegetables.”
You might be relieved to hear that the designs she’s working on next are less apocalyptic, more optimistic.
“For spring/summer 2022 the inspiration is pure Saturday Night Fever,” she says. “It’s crochet bikinis, it’s sex, it’s everyone bonking.”
Ah, so that’s what we’ve got to look forward to in a year’s time. She’s also launched a Spotify station, where you can listen to the playlists that inspire her, and started a blog-like diary, Alexa’s World, on her website (in 2014 she published her memoir, It). One project particularly close to her heart was the T-shirt she designed in aid of International Women’s Day, with all profits going to the Women’s Endometriosis Research Foundation.
Alexa was diagnosed with the condition in 2019, and underwent a laparoscopy last year. “I didn’t know what it was,” she explains. “It affects one in 10 women, when something similar to the lining of a uterus grows in other places, and on organs. A lot of infertility cases can be explained by undiagnosed endometriosis.”
She describes her experience as chronically painful. “For me, a few weeks of the month, everything’s fine. And then I’m in agony. I had surgery; it all went well. Hopefully it’s OK.”
Alexa began her career as a fashion model at the age of 16 after being scouted at Reading Festival. While she says she found “straight fashion modelling boring”, she thought adverts were fun because she got to talk. By the time she was 18, Alexa was already making good money. Arriving on Channel 4’s Popworld in 2006, with long hair, ballet pumps and a denim pinafore, a geek-chic style icon was born. Aged 22, Alexa and co-host Alex Zane conducted irreverent interviews with stars from Paul McCartney to Lily Allen. She inspired a generation to follow her every androgynous-suited move, advanced her TV career and became a fixture at music festivals. At the same time, her relationship with the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, from 2007 to 2011, became tabloid fodder.
By January 2010, Mulberry had named a bag after Alexa and she was a contributing editor at Vogue. Over the next decade, she held ambassadorship contracts and designed collaborative collections with brands including Superga and Marks & Spencer.
She also moved to New York for seven years to present the MTV talk show It’s On with Alexa Chung. But it’s only since founding her own business in 2017 that she says she finally feels in control of her career.
“People used to say, ‘What does she even do?’ because I did so many different things. But now, that’sa classic Millennial trait. No one goes on about it any more.”
“There’s no autonomy in being an It Girl,” Alexa says. “At least, not in what that term used to mean, when it was like you’re a society girl. I was a television presenter – ‘It Girl’ was a huge insult. I have a job. I work really hard.
“People used to say, ‘What does she even do?’ because I did so many different things. But now, that’s a classic Millennial trait. No one goes on about it any more. All of those things I studied in isolation [broadcast journalism, design and business] make sense to the job I do now.”
Despite years of experience with fame, Alexa admits that she still cares about what is written about her, and can be drawn into replying to comments on her Instagram posts.
“I used to be worse,” she says. “If the comments are untrue, I get cross. I watched a video I did the other day and people were saying beneath it how I sound like a man. Being famous is like listening in to a dinner party where everyone is slagging you off. But they also give you free things. It’s like, ‘If you don’t mind everyone being horrible about you, we’ll give you this free dress.’ I think, ‘Fair enough, all right.’ ”
Her relationship with Fry is the subject of great media fascination in the UK. Fry’s family owned the confectionery company of the same name, a division of Cadbury’s, until 2010. “It’s embarrassing,” she says of the situation. “Whenever I’ve done an interview I think, ‘What have I said?’ Because if I ever mention my boyfriend, then he’s also got a family, and they read it.”
The tabloids focus on the 11-year age difference between them. “I’d like to say he is 26 years old,” Alexa laughs. “Because the Mail always says he’s 24. I’m like, ‘Guys, it’s a really important bit of information [to get right].’ ”
Alexa’s gang of girl mates, including models Pixie Geldof and Daisy Lowe, have stuck tight over the years. While they may not have seen much of each other recently, there have been plenty of video calls.
“There are moments when those friendships really come through,” she says. “Like a female health problem. Or just panging about getting older.” Does she care about getting older? “No, I like it. I like accruing information. So getting older just means that you’ve reached the next level of info.”
“There are moments when those friendships really come through,” she says. “Like a female health problem. Or just panging about getting older.”
She is, however, planning to buy a silk pillowcase and reminds me that she quit smoking yesterday. “So far it’s going great,” she says. “I was smoking so much, then I suddenly didn’t like them. I’m trying to not get too wrinkly and I don’t want to get Botox.”
Yes, I encourage her, this sounds like a good thing for your health. “But will it be?” she quips. “Not to brag, but my skin’s pretty good and I have given it a real kicking. I didn’t really have a routine up until recently. I’ve smoked. I’ve drunk a lot of whisky. I’m usually dehydrated. Maybe it’s something else.”
For now, Alexa’s landed somewhere between her dreams of owning a “delightful Georgian townhouse, which I would decorate really well”, and a party life. “I want to throw a party where it’s all about your entrance,” she says. “A compère introduces all your friends again: ‘Back by popular demand, it’s Pixie Geldof!’ Nipple tassels, glitter cannons … wouldn’t that be cool?”
George Northwood had better get ready to deliver the party hairstyle everyone will want to copy.
Alexa’s latest collection is available now at alexachung.com.
Stella Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph (UK).
Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Get it in your inbox every Monday.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale June 6 To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
We are now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TechiUpdate) and stay updated with the latest Technology headlines.
For all the latest LifeStyle News Click Here