How Alexa Chung Is Still Shaping Fashion
Twenty years after she began modelling, fashion's charismatic 'It' girl remains a fixture
When I was a fifteen I hankered after many things: '60s minis, chunky brogues, double-breasted blazers, elegant ballet flats, ‘granny chic’ floral tea dresses (ideally worn with a big jumper or cardigan).
Much as I would have been loathe to admit it then, preferring to cite style icons from the distant past such as Audrey Hepburn, my choices were probably influenced in no small part by Alexa Chung.
How could they not be? Hitting adolescence in the late noughties, the model turned TV presenter turned ‘It’ girl was a rather inescapable presence.
Everything she wore – from smocks with Peter Pan collars through to Breton tops and over-the-knee socks at Glastonbury – filtered down via fashion magazines, blogs, and high street shops to my own, rather chaotic teenage wardrobe.
I was reminded of this fact recently when reading about Chung’s eponymous fashion label, which she launched in 2017 after a series of collaborations with other brands including Madewell, AG Jeans, and M&S.
Billed as a refined reflection of her own personal style, the brand has been beloved in fashion circles for its peppy knits and tailoring, as well as its playful party-wear.
However, such praise hasn’t translated into financial success just yet. In fact, it was revealed recently that Chung’s firm, Alpha Charlie Limited, reported a significant loss of £2.3 million last year, requiring shareholders to inject an additional £1.7 million into the business - with more money added again in June 2020.
This news raises interesting – and potentially troubling - questions not only about how celebrities go about navigating the notoriously tricky path towards creating profitable brands (Victoria Beckham's label has also struggled to break even), but also whether a famous figure’s style is enough of a selling point to sustain a whole company.
After all, although Alexa Chung’s label doesn’t begin and end with her love of good denim and robust ankle boots, it is still entirely infused with (and sold on the strength of) Chung’s particular sartorial spirit: one part satin clad Mick Jagger, one part tweedy horse girl, with a dash of deliberately retro charm.
Much like her M&S collaboration, which saw Chung dig through the retailer’s St Michael archives in order to breathe new life into pie crust collars and vinyl raincoats, Chung’s designs are unmistakably intended to be things that she herself would wear.
This consideration of the tricky journey from style icon to successful label is particularly intriguing in Chung’s case, given her obvious influence on the fashion world. Regardless of her own company’s finances, for a long time now Chung has played a significant role in both cementing wider trends and boosting sales for a number of individual brands she’s worked with or worn.
First beginning her modelling career some twenty years ago at the age of 16 and subsequently reaching public prominence in 2006 when she started presenting Channel 4’s irreverent show Popworld, the presenter quickly became an integral fixture at parties, red carpets, and on London Fashion Week’s front row.
By 2010, which was just around the point where I’d begun emulating her love of vintage frocks in earnest, her star power had risen to the point that Mulberry named their newest bag after her.
The Alexa was a soft, slouchy leather satchel that could be slung over a shoulder or across the body. Its appearance spoke perfectly to Chung’s own unfussy, insouciant, slightly school-girlish look.
In fact the bag’s shape had been inspired, then creative director Emma Hill said, by pictures of the presenter toting a vintage Mulberry Elkington, The new bag was an instant bestseller. In a boost that seemed almost baffling given the ongoing recession, Mulberry reported a sales increase of 80 per cent.
A decade on and that star power hasn’t waned. This November, during another year beset by financial uncertainty, Mulberry brought the Alexa back ahead of its 50th anniversary celebrations.
This time it came with new sustainable credentials and an updated set of colours. Once again, it proved a winning decision – and canny move for a brand attempting to mitigate ongoing losses. More than 1000 of them sold within the first month of launching.
This seems somewhat indicative of the continued influence Chung holds. Case in point number two might be her successful collaboration with Barbour: a brand whose profits have been steadily climbing in recent years. Having been pictured wearing the stalwart British brand for years, Chung first joined forces with Barbour in 2019, striking a two-year, four-season contract with the outerwear company.
As with a number of her other collaborations, though this time under the auspices of her label, Chung’s remit has been one of reimagining classic garments with her own characteristic twist.
In the case of the Barbour collaboration, this style formula has translated into checked collars, high shine coated gingham, and waxed cape details: combining hardwearing practicality with something a little more whimsical, calling to mind long, blustery walks over picturesque hills and the smell of greenery in damp gardens.
When it comes to her brand too, Alexa Chung remains her own best ambassador. Last week, she posted a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a handsome biscuit-coloured knitted tank top complete with horses. It’s a very 2020 sort of garment: a dash of Diana mixed with the granddad-ish knitwear trend that’s currently making the winter rounds.
Look for it on the website now and it’s entirely sold out. During the past fifteen years Chung’s strength – consciously sought or not – has been an ability to speak to and reflect the zeitgeist, from her indie days of plaid shirts and denim cut-offs to her present love of boxy tailoring, vinyl trousers and big, puffed sleeves.
Whether this will eventually pay off for her brand remains to be seen, but in the meantime her hold over the fashion world doesn’t seem to be dimming yet.
– The Telegraph
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Saturday April 24, 2021
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