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What Alexa Chung Did Next

© Alex Bramall

The model and muse on helming her own successful global brand

Because, for someone so famous, the question often volleyed around is: what does she actually do? Of course, Alexa ‘does’ quite a lot. She started modelling at 16, then became known to a wider audience at 22 as host of cult music show Pop World. Since then, she’s worn the hats of designer, writer, brand ambassador, businesswoman and, as is de rigueur for any Millennial poster girl, occasional DJ. She’s a renaissance woman for the Instagram generation.

For someone so ubiquitous, Alexa, 34, is oddly elusive and almost impossible to pinpoint, a curious mix of spiky guardedness and disarming frankness, who can switch from bombshell to goofball with a tilt of the head. As we talk, she ricochets in and out of different voices (a Zoolander-ish male model, an angry Instagram commenter) and jumps from topic to topic. She would have been a great actress – and, in a way, she has been.

What there is no doubt about is that Alexa is a style icon for women who are too cool to admit it. In an age when social media has flattened personal style, millions hang on her every hemline. It’s hard to think of anyone whose aesthetic has been so forensically examined (she must be sick of talking about Peter Pan collars and denim cut-offs by now). For all the Chungaholics out there, she arrives for the Grazia shoot wearing an old fluffy APC jacket, maroon Joseph trousers plus Superga hi-tops and a T-shirt of her own design.

Transitioning from muse to designer feels like a natural progression. Her sell-out collabs (with the likes of AG Jeans and M&S) have always felt authentic. Take this spring’s collaboration with Superga, in which she’s created ‘dream versions’ of the kicks she already wears. She’s been brand ambassador at Superga since 2011, but her personal relationship with them goes back further: ‘My mum’s been wearing them forever.’

The Superga collection is actually a collaboration with Alexa’s own label, ALEXACHUNG, which she finally launched after years of specuation (and wishful thinking) last year. ‘It’s been amazing,’ she says. ‘It’s a lot of responsibility but it’s fulfilling. Any energy you’re putting in that direction is less like pouring your love down a well and more like building something.’

What she’s building is a bona fide global brand – no mean feat in a tough economic climate. The clothes are selling: ALEXACHUNG has 140 stockists in over 22 countries and has surpassed financial projections. There is a staff of 25, including MD Edwin Bodson, who came from French brand Haider Ackermann. This is a grown-up, functioning business, not a vanity project. She might have been in the public eye for a decade ‘whether you like it or not!’, but the brand is a start-up and she’s working her arse off to make it a success.

Doors might open more easily for ‘celebrity’ designers, but they have to work twice as hard to diminish preconceived notions, all under an intense scrutiny that other designers don’t have to endure (in Alexa’s case, we can’t help but be fascinated by her love life: she’s dated musician Alex Turner and actor Alexander Skarsgård, with whom she was photographed last week). ‘It’s hard work and it’s going to be a journey to do it for long enough, and well enough, that people take me seriously in that creative director role,’ she admits, adding, ‘I don’t have an education in design, or the schooling that would provide me with the shorthand to expedite that process but, that said, a lot of designers I admire didn’t necessarily get that either. That’s why I’ve hired people who are amazing at fabrics, or brilliant pattern-cutters, so they offer a support network.’ Her confidence is growing, bolstered by sales, a tangible reminder to trust her instincts. ‘I never really thought of myself as the boss, but I think I am? I’m still growing into that role,’ she says, adding that being ‘opinionated’ helps.

Alexa spent much of the past decade shuttling around the world, relocating to New York at one point. (What did she miss most? ‘Roast dinners. Explaining to New Yorkers that you have a Thanksgiving every Sunday for no reason is mind-boggling to them.’) Now, while she’s still on a plane all the time (‘That I’d be stationary was a gross misconception of mine’) it was important to her that the business was UK-based; the ALEXACHUNG studio is in London. ‘I wanted it to be a British brand,’ she says. ‘There are elements of Britishness I’ve always loved: being open to eccentric people and having an inbuilt humour kit.’ Certainly, there’s an unmistakable Britishness to the eclectic collections. The look is pure Alexa: tomboyish, but romantic, vintage-inspired with a dash of ethereal whimsy – cool-girl clothes for the kind of girl who’d be mortified at that description. This season, she was inspired by the Bloomsbury Group, the early 20th- century intellectuals and artists including Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. The collection of languid suiting, pyjama separates, a duck-egg lace dress and glossy anorak were shot in Charleston, the East Sussex farmhouse that was the movement’s unofficial hub.

The other reason she wanted to be back in the UK is that her friends and family are based here. The youngest of four siblings, she credits her ‘very amusing’ family with keeping her feet on the ground and helping her find her own voice. There’s also the extended crew she’s knocked around with for years, the likes of Nick Grimshaw and Pixie Geldof, who’ve remained a constant texture despite the inevitable turbulence of her twenties and often wildly uncomplimentary schedules. ‘Bloody stuck with them,’ she says with a laugh. ‘We call it “dorm life”, we didn’t want it to end.’ Are things changing as they get older? ‘For every wedding you attend, six months after that, it’s a goodbye party. Every wedding is a friendship funeral,’ she jokes.

Alexa is open about being a full-throttle romantic, but says she is also a complete girls’ girl. ‘My boyishness helps me be a better girls’ girl,’ she says. ‘I grew up with brothers so I wasn’t mystified by men. I’ve been good at advice.’ She laughs at her propensity for ‘dad jokes’, and her friend Jack Guinness describes her as ‘dependable, honest to a fault, generous, trustworthy, incredibly fun and very annoying, like a sister’. She’s his favourite person to do karaoke with: ‘A pretty useless real-world talent but invaluable for a night on the lash.’

Alexa, who says she’s ‘immature’ in the studio, has fostered a fun atmosphere at work – she certainly isn’t perpetuating the bully-boss myth. ‘Humour is important to me; if the going gets tough, laughing will be the thing that gets us through.’ As Bodson notes, ‘Her dedication and hard work is always paired with laughter. She’s taught me how important it is to access our inner child to foster creativity and keep things in perspective.’

For Alexa it’s also about ensuring her team is heard. ‘I’ll always remember the joy of being asked my opinion at my first television job, having been a mute model for years. When you get older, you forget how important it is to have a voice. And so I’ve created an environment where the team is allowed to be noisy and come up with stupid ideas.’ Alexa, too, has found her voice. And it’s one that’s finally drowning the whispers of ‘What does she do?'