Alexa Chung On How 'Insane' It's Been To Launch Her Line, Out Now

Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images.
If you've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Alexa Chung's namesake collection, the time is finally here. It's been in the works for over a year; we got a very fleeting glimpse at the Alexachung aesthetic (yes, it's all one word) at the beginning of this month, when she unveiled the brand's logo and a piece or two, as well as her superb equestrian skills. Then, a couple days later, Chung wore her own designs in British Vogue. After season one was shown on the runway in London today, the full array of pieces, including plenty of accessories, bowed on Alexachung.com. Below, Chung fills us in (quite frankly!) on the joys and challenges of starting her very own brand, and click through to check out the first drop.
How did launching your very own clothing line differ from the numerous collabs and capsules you've done?
“The main difference is a high-octane responsibility shift — before, I had a safety net of blame, where I could say, ‘it wasn’t exactly what I wanted because this brand made it. Also, you have the leverage of their production line. Now, I’m responsible for a team of people, and it’s got my name on it, which means I’m directly affiliated. We also started from scratch, including building a team of people, finding an office, securing a website, shooting the collection, doing graphic design; every single thing. It was so interesting and amazing how much there was to do. Usually, you walk into a collaboration with someone, and they’ve already got the preexisting brand DNA; everything to do with production, you can utilize.
“Day one, one year ago, we were in my managing director’s kitchen in East London and there were two of looking at each other, going ‘Oh fuck, how do we do this?!’ Every month went by and a new member would join. Now I walk into the office and there are 15 people. It’s now a living, breathing situation. It feels heavier, but I try to maintain a sense of humor and keep it fairly light, even though it’s quite hardcore.”
How did you go about sourcing the designers?
“At first, it was quite hard, because we didn’t announce the line until July, so for the first few months, we were doing it as a covert operation. Within the industry, we put the feelers out — people would come meet with us and only then would they discover who it was for, so that was interesting. Once we secured our head designer and head of production, we then kind of went from there and tried to build compatible people around that. It’s been a process."
Are there any particular items or trends in the first collection that you really agonized over getting right?
“Most of it was like that! It took a lot of rejigging. And some items, we’d run out of time with and decided to shelve. I agonized over most things, and it’s been a progress — our sweatshirts and T-shirts changed from season one to season two, and we’re always finessing stuff, even the basics like denim and whatnot. Tailoring is particularly hard; we ended up getting someone in from Saville Row to help with the suit jackets.
“Other than that, I had this idea to make a miniskirt suit that would be our own classic, sort of like a Chanel suit, in trench fabric that would become an Alexachung staple. It’s more of a trend thing now, and probably won’t carry on to the next season. Though who knows; maybe we’ll carry it in another fabric down the line. We’re allowing ourselves the time to see what emerges as our cornerstone pieces. The whole line is pretty wardrobe-y anyway, and very wearable. We worked on the summer dresses and the hooded tee dress a fair bit.”
Any signature Alexa Chung staples you didn’t want to include in the line?
“Not really. In the beginning, I tried to step away — we made our own jacquards, because we didn’t use any stock fabrics, we wanted to make everything unique. At the beginning, I was reluctant to include dungarees or navy blue jumpers. But those are the things I love, and I think are essential, so we ended up making them. Hopefully, those are more developed versions of simple things I wear.”
Did specific industry contacts or mentors advise you through the process of rolling out your own line?
“No, I’m someone that’s quite independent. I’ve subsequently spoken to designer friends who’ve been like, ‘Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve helped you!’ But I’m so not like that. I was probably cutting off my own nose to spite my face in a sense, because it would’ve been much easier to pick up the phone and say, ‘Help!’ I wanted to do it on my own though. And when it was so covert those first few months…and in my nature, I downplay stuff. Yet now, we’re already on collection five, with 150 pieces per collection. I could’ve probably done with the help in the first place.”
How did you land on the prices points, and decide how affordable versus luxury to make the line?
“It was insane. I know I keep using the word ‘insane,’ but the whole thing really has blown my mind. The calculations and numbers weren’t things I was directly involved with in any collaborations I’ve done, but when it’s your own business, you have to really look at that stuff. From the beginning, I wanted it to be advanced contemporary — to be of a certain quality, unique, and well-developed, and made in nice factories. I wanted it to be somewhat affordable, but still a treat.
“When you have all those different things on your checklist, you need someone really talented to bring it all together. Our head of production is a genius, so she managed to make that all possible. But it is really is difficult. If I was to do it again with higher price points, it would’ve been easier, yet I wanted it to be something people could actually buy, so that obviously limits things. You can buy the same fabrics to use across different styles; there are tricks to bring the minimums and price points down. I’d say, ‘I want this fabric,’ and the team would be like, ‘In your dreams.’ It was a great education in understanding why clothes cost certain amounts. I’m sure to some it might seem expensive, to others it’ll seem reasonable — but I wanted to land it [price-wise] like an A.P.C. or See by Chloe. It’s a treat to yourself, but you won’t feel so guilty and like you can’t afford your rent.”
Were you always planning to create an eponymous line?
“No! To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to have my own name until a few months in. Then, I was informed it was that way or the highway. I was like, ‘Ah, shit.’ It was great, though; I had to really make peace with myself that I was shackling myself to this forever. I needed that, I think, because I’m someone who eschews responsibility at ever turn. So it’s been a huge learning curve and massive growing up moment, to know I”m directly responsible for all of these people, and I just to get on with it. The reward is higher as well — hiding behind things also means you don’t get to see the benefits. Even working on the line’s logo, I’m really proud of it; I had to take ownership, and it feels good.”
Given your lack of formal fashion training, what was most surprising about this whole process?
“How little you get to actually see it — we’d get one prototype back, one opportunity to correct mistakes. You see it in a weird fabric the factory’s provided, and it’s insane how much you have to imagine. Even when it comes to picking fabrics, you’re given something the size of a postage stamp, and you have to decide if you like this fabric or that fabric, for a piece that will be made in eight months’ time, that you spending thousands of dollars on. It’s gambling, essentially. We joke about that a lot in the office. I thought it’d be a lot more like playing around with something, seeing it in real life, but you don’t really get that opportunity. You just hope it’s going to look good. You get a lot of surprises when things come back from the factory.”
Since you had to keep this project under wraps for awhile, how did you go about test-driving the pieces?
“I wasn’t allowed to wear any of it for awhile, actually! It was so annoying. In the office we’d all wear it around, though. If I was really excited about a piece, I’d just put in on for the day. Now I’ve been wearing it on shoots and stuff as we do press. But the samples are all sweaty and used; I want my own, fresh things.”
Did you plan on using the “see now, buy now” model from the get-go?
“It sort of made sense to do it that way, because the types of clothes I’m making are very wearable and for the people. I like a sense of humor in fashion, and street style; and it made sense that when you show the clothes to people, they should be able to buy it. That’s created a lot of challenges in terms of production: You have to design so far in advance, and take a risk on whether people are going to like it.”
Since you’re already working on your fifth collection, can you share any teasers about what lies ahead for Alexachung?
“We will expand into new categories, but not for awhile. There was a conversation recently about doing something in a different category; it felt too soon for me, even if the collection wouldn’t be out for another two years — I don’t want to compromise the quality of everything by trying to do too much at once. I was also relying lot on the team to educate me, because I don’t have an education in fashion design. Things I’d instinctively want to do aren’t necessarily possible with a certain fabric. So the more I’ve learned, hopefully the better it gets.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve made with collection one, because it blows my mind it was even possible, that quickly. The fist season is a sort of ‘getting to know you’ collection, and it gets more directional las we move along and I really took the reins more. For awhile I was like, ‘I’m still floating between New York and London, It girl-ing around,’ and by season three I was locked in, just saying, ‘Oh shit, I’m here, working from 8 ’till 8, baby.’”
How do you think you’ll respond when you spot people wearing your designs for the first time?
"It’s happened before with other collaborations I’ve done, and it’s great. I was on the Tube the other day in London, and I girl had on a trench coat I made for a U.K. collection; I’ve seen a lot of girls wearing that trench, actually. They usually run and hide from me awkwardly, actually. I’m like, ‘I see you!’ The girl the other day said ‘Thanks for the jacket!’ That made me very happy.”