Alexa Chung (right) and DJ Tennessee Thomas take on Madewell S.F. Photo: Michelle Drewes for Madewell
If you were anywhere near the Westfield Mall yesterday, then you know that a certain Miss Alexa Chung was in town to debut and celebrate her second collection for Madewell. As a doubled-up line snaked around the entrance—even well before the doors to the party opened—we caught up with the model-turned-VJ-turned-designer to chat about the term style icon, her upcoming reality show, palm tree obsessions, Peter Pan collar fatigue, and more. See it all below!
Your name always has the phrase “style icon” right alongside it. Is that weird to you?
“It’s really weird, but very cool. I’m very much a cookie-cutter hipster. So, I feel a little bit bad about the fact that, essentially, I’m a hipster but I’m the only one that the rest of the world said, ‘Hey you’ve got really great style!’ But literally everyone in Williamsburg and East London has this. But you want to plunder this? Then that’s fine! I have always adored fashion and now I think [the label] is really cool. The mainstream is weird and people were really happy with things being mediocre [in fashion] and not really challenging anything. So, if my hipster style can influence people, that’s cool. I think [the style icon label] is a bit premature. But it has to do with the rise of blogs and the internet. It’s just a reflection of modern times. Historically the term was applied to women who were notorious for their style over decades and decades and they might be a bit older. So, to have such an immediate label on me was a bit intimidating, but also very flattering. And it’s just cool because I’m from the middle of the country in England. It’s hilarious. I’m still like ‘Oooh! I’m in London!’ I’m just from the country.”
You named one of the pieces in this collection the Jane Birkin dress. Whom else would you consider your style icons?
“And there’s a Jean Shrimpton coat, too! In terms of an era, the ‘60s really nailed it for me. I think everyone looked beautiful then and my style icons tend to be from that time and decade. It’s a lot of band girlfriends, really. So, Anita Pallenberg, Marianne Faithful, and musicians in their own right like Françoise Hardy. More recently it’s been characters like Alice in Wonderland. And I don’t know any famous Victorians, but I collect old pictures that I find in flea markets. I’m always inspired by old photographs of people. It’s so much more romantic and people used to put so much effort into how they looked.”
Palm trees are all over your new collection. Why this symbol?
“I really like palm trees and they seem exotic and cool to me since I’m from England. They’re sort of wrapped up in this fantasy world of L.A. and In-N-Out Burger. I also thought it’d be quite funny to introduce them in an autumn setting. I had a really cool palm tree necklace I got from Tiffany and it’s like a lucky charm, so I decided to plaster them all over really practical things...like pajamas and ice-skating dresses!”
Right! What’s with the ice-skating dress in the collection. Were you a skater?
“No. I’m incredibly uncoordinated thanks to my gigantic limbs that don’t seem to move like I expect them to. But I just love that shape. I like a mini and I think it’s a quite easy piece to wear and I like jerseys and knits.”
It looks like you’ve also created a twist on the Peter Pan collar in this collection. The new version is a little bit more pointed.
“Yes! Everyone’s plundered that Mary Quant thing. What happened was, before we started the design process I went to the offices and they showed me what was going to be in the Madewell store. And on their mood board there was a kind of ‘70s work woman/office gal thing going on. So, we played the collar down a bit, also because I was quite sick of seeing Peter Pan collars everywhere. I still love them, but wanted them to be less exaggerated and more wearable. It’s also me growing up and realizing not everyone wants to dress like a 5-year-old in the same way that I do.”
What can you tell us about the coat that’s inspired by those worn by garbage men?
“It’s called a donkey jacket in England. But we called it the bin-man coat. They are exactly like this, actually. It’s interesting to me how a coat that’s so chic can come out of a job that’s associated with grime and hard work, but they’re also very practical. They are made of wool and the leather shoulders keep you dry. It’s almost like a naval thing. I like classic designs, so I just wanted to make it a little more narrow and feminine since the British version is really heavy and masculine.”
You also have a shirt featuring your ‘Serious Face’ sketch. What’s the story behind that?
“I draw a lot and I have a sketch book that Madewell looked through and they thought that it was cool. It’s actually a sketch inspired by the daughter of John McClane in Die Hard 4.”
You’ve scrapped your PBS series Thrifting America, but you are doing a new show on Lifetime. Tell us about that and what else you have coming up.
“It’s like a fashion reality show with a 24-hour catwalk. The designers have to design a collection in 24 hours and I’m the host! We’re filming now. Otherwise . . . since I was a model before any of this, I still sort of have this freelance brain where I’ve always got to make sure I have something coming up. And that sort of stressed me out. But now I think I’ve become more adult and I’m taking the time to tackle just the things that really believe in and really like. I’m heading to Paris Fashion Week to write for French Vogue. And then after that, I’ve been offered a radio show in England. But it’s really about working out where I want to live, as well. I’m in the East Village right now. So, we’ll see!”
Photo by Michelle Drewes