In 2016, when the news broke that Alexa Chung was launching her own label, the timing felt right. After sell-out collections for Marks & Spencer and AG Jeans, where the much-revered style heavyweight brought her signature aesthetic to the masses, anticipation had been building as to whether she would take the reins and found her own brand. Five collections under her eponymous label later, we saw Chung move from 'see now, buy now' drops to a space on the London Fashion Week show schedule. And, once again, the timing felt right.
"I’m very excited about clothes — I’m excitable in general — but we’ve found our feet and reined it in," Chung tells Refinery29 in her east London studio. "I’ve evolved. I feel more comfortable with saying if I don’t like something, and I’m more sure of the direction I want to take the company in."
Aptly named 'Arrivals & Departures,' Chung’s spring 2019 collection captures the heady glamour of vintage air travel (it wasn’t always budget Ryanair flights) and the curious jumble of style seen in the limbo of airport lounges. "Where are you going? Where have you been? What are you wearing?" the show notes read. "The brand finds inspiration in the microclimate of holiday-ready and holiday-returning dressing, the airport that idiosyncratic intersection of real life where clothes for hot and cold climates meet and an eclectic mishmash of style plays out. It’s one part Ibiza to one part Japan and yet another to Margate all rolled into one."
On Friday, Chung invited an audience to Victoria House in Bloomsbury Square London. Taking their seats, plane ticket invitations in hand, show-goers saw fresh-faced models weaving in and out of a '70s-inspired wooden set, lights flickering, building in anticipation. The show began with Japanese composer Isao Tomita's take on a Debussy classic and the models glided out, showcasing the first of the pieces, to be worn by those who travel in style: business class, martini in hand. Camel trench coats and silk headscarves were shown among suede button-up dresses and butter-yellow waistcoats over billowing orange shirts.
Sunny weather get-ups made an appearance — think Bermuda shorts, printed scarves tied as bandeau tops, and canvas tote bags — while '00s rave-appropriate black mini dresses with sparkle detailing had Ibiza nights nailed. Of course, the prettiest ruffled prairie number made an appearance, confirming Chung's penchant for a hyper-feminine dress — one for a weekend in the south of France, perhaps?
A jazz-infused, avant-pop Sparks song ended the show, a fitting reflection of the 'mishmash' of styles seen at airport lounges the world over. As the models took their final walk, what became apparent was that this melange is totally right for Chung; she can turn her hand to varying decades and styles while staying true to her own unwavering aesthetic. Whether it's masculine tailoring or party girl minis, grown-up outerwear or playful Juju Jelly shoes (Alexachung collaborated with the sparkly '90s footwear brand this season), what ties it all together is Chung's singular vision.
It's nearly a year and a half since she debuted her joyful first collection for the Alexachung label in May 2017. The pieces reflected Chung’s personal style — much talked-about ever since her turn as a presenter on Channel 4's Popworld in the mid '00s — with pastel-hued silk shirts, Mick Jagger-esque striped suits, and thigh-high Cheongsams warmly welcomed by (and swiftly added to the wardrobes of) the industry and her legion of followers alike.
Since her initial offering, Chung has produced celebrated collections that bring the dreaminess of storytelling to the fore. Her second collection, held in Paris and titled 'Prom Gone Wrong,' was a sparkle-infused Molly Ringwald-esque end-of-school bash; the following resort collection, 'Fantastic,' was an ode to Britpop, all Jarvis Cocker blazers and Gallagher brother parkas. Spring 2018 was inspired by a jaunt to Bloomsbury Group residence, Charleston, in East Sussex, while her resort 2019 offering, 'Ludlow,' was an homage to her time living in New York.
Chung has been in the public eye since 2006, and despite the ease with which she understood the fashion industry and the joy of clothes, her move into the role of designer wasn’t without its growing pains. "I think it took a while to adjust to my new reality, because as much as I desired this, actually working on a collection versus the fancy I had in my head was slightly at odds – it took a while to settle in," she explains. "With most women tackling a new role, there is a sense of imposter syndrome, and it takes a minute not to second-guess yourself all the time."
Now, though, she says with the experience of five collections behind her, she’s refined her vision, whether it’s "about a more sophisticated color palette, or being really potent and stripping things back," and is ready to bring a new direction to the brand. "It was like being a first-time mother and being really excited about the baby, but when it arrived it was crying all the time, puking on me and being really needy. Now I’ve stopped breastfeeding and can see it smiling back at me."
One of the key aspects that draw audiences to Chung’s collections are the cultural references strewn throughout, from the Teddy boys of the 1950s and '60s to Jane Birkin strolling around a Sunday market. Finding these references, she says, is the starting point for her creative process. "I find inspiration in vintage photographs or movies, whatever it is that catches my eye, and then I develop a full story around those characters, with a narrative and scenes and locations. Then I dress the people in that movie," she says. "At first, I thought that sounded like a juvenile way to approach things, but now I’m like, 'Fuck it!' — that’s how we do it and it’s the most enjoyable process. Each collection feels like a short film."