A Very Important Phone Call Between Chelsea Handler & Alexa Chung

At first glance, Chelsea Handler and Alexa Chung might seem a slightly strange pairing for an interview. But, ahh, like leather and lace, it’s the unexpected nature of this power combo that makes it so good. And while they are each, in their own way, dominating the conversation in different worlds — Handler, with the announcement that she’s ending her weekly Netflix talk show to focus on activism, a new book, and a political documentary, and Chung, with the much-anticipated launch of the second collection from her eponymous fashion label, Alexachung — there are a few important things that the defiant entertainer and rebellious style icon are absolutely aligned on. Like, say, the fact that men should never wear sweatpants outside of the house. (As Handler puts it, “Not only can we see your penis, we can see your balls. It's disgusting.”) Both women are also firm believers in harnessing the regular goodness of 20-minute disco naps, ditching the traditional markers of adult womanhood, and, well....sarcasm. Plenty of it.
That final point is why we convinced these two who live thousands of miles apart to have a nice, old-fashioned phone call to discuss everything from the aforementioned sweatpants to sexual harassment and (maybe) future babies. After eavesdropping on their call, we can officially confirm that funny and fashion are yet another under-rated combo that yields magical results...
Chelsea Handler: “I'm in New York. You're in London. The last time I saw you was in Los Angeles at Sunset Tower and you were running off. You were very abrupt, by the way. I was hoping to catch up with you, and you were running off with your friend to do I don't know what. You left me in a lurch. I was trying to talk to you.”
Alexa Chung: “It's very busy at Sunset Tower.”
CH: “Yeah, yeah. There are so many things going on there. It's like a pinball machine. So, first let's start with your forte, which is fashion. I'm obviously intrigued by fashion because I know nothing about it, and it's not really something I think about often. I want you to enlighten me. And I want you to tell me: Yourself not included, I get the feeling that fashion people take themselves way too seriously. Do you share that opinion?
AC: “I feel as though it's actually more people on the periphery who take themselves very seriously. Deeper into the eye of the storm, there's more humor to be found. Fashion is all about image. And obviously, you have to be a bit po-faced if you're wearing fluffy slippers and a huge feather hat — otherwise they're just going to laugh you out of the room because you look like Zoolander. But it's all an act. And, actually, most people I know who work in fashion and hold down those high-powered jobs are really intelligent, and therefore, quite funny.”
CH: “How seriously do you take it?”
AC: “I obviously like clothes a lot. I'm not sure that I love fashion. We actually called it ‘fash-wahn’ in my office when things get too ‘fash-wahn.’ I'm very serious about collecting clothes. But I'm probably not that serious about fashion as an industry. That said, I have started my own label, so I'm taking it somewhat seriously when the numbers roll in.
“I was just saying to someone: Wherever I go on the planet, there's always a fucking pile of clothes that follows me around. I can't be bothered to do another suitcase, so I just empty out whatever previously happened. And that could be a trip to a wedding in Norway or Paris Fashion Week, and then I'm going to L.A. or something where you need to be scantily clad. That's the curse of liking fashion too much: There's always a weird mishmash of different seasons just staring at me from a chair.”
CH: “First of all, only a British person can use the phrase ‘scantily clad’ seriously and come off not looking like a complete jackass. Kudos to you. Or I should say, cheers. Tell me a little bit about running your own business. What has been the biggest challenge you've encountered?”
AC: “I'm naturally quite hammy and obviously came from an entertainment background. I find it really difficult to step up to being a boss and understanding that not everyone is going to like me in every situation. I'm so busy trying to make people in the office laugh or tell them weird anecdotes, that stuff gets swept under the rug. Then we're in a disaster crisis zone and I'm shouting at everyone. So I think I need to figure out how to be a good leader. Also, looking after people's emotions is very hard. There's 20 people in the office, 17 women. There's a lot going on, and it's so human-y.”
CH: “Speaking of: There's a preponderance of women in fashion. With everything that's coming out in the news — around Harvey Weinstein and Bill O'Reilly, and countless others — we seem to be at a cultural tipping point. Are these conversations happening in the fashion world? How do you compare it to Silicon Valley and the entertainment industry in terms of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment?”
AC: “I started out as a model when I was a teenager. I was put in some pretty sticky situations at a very young age, and it's prevalent still in the fashion industry. I think there need to be some kind of rules put in place. For example, maybe toting your portfolio around as a teenager to some weird dude's apartment and showing them your book in their living room is maybe a strange setup. They should be more —”
CH: “Professional?”
AC: “Exactly. I'm like, ‘Wait, you want me to shoot Polaroids in my underwear in your living room in West London?’ And this is one of five appointments I have today?”
CH: “Were you ever in a situation where you felt scared for your safety?”
AC: “Yeah, there were a couple of situations when I was much younger. The details have gotten murky as I've gotten older. But something happened that was weird enough for me to remember it, even now. It was difficult because I was living in Hampshire, in the middle of the country, getting a train up to London and doing these things, then going home and not having someone to tell about that. You can't tell your friends because in England, it's like, ‘Shut up. You're a model.’ And I felt uncomfortable telling my family.
“I remember my sister leaving me at a photoshoot. I was always chaperoned; my parents made sure of that. She left to get coffee or whatever, and some photographer guy had shot me last. Everyone else had gone home. I guess it should've been an indicator to me, but I was so young. And he started undressing me. He was like, ‘Okay come into my bedroom. I'm the stylist now.’ And it wasn't until halfway through my clothes being off that I was like, ‘Oh God. Okay no, this is not okay.’ I was very, very innocent.”
CH: “People keep asking me if I’ve ever been in a situation where I felt sexually threatened, and when I'm like, ‘honestly, no,’ they say, ‘Well, that's because your personality is so strong.’ And that's such an unfair thing to say to women. It's not because I have a strong personality. It's just because I've been lucky. People with strong personalities get sexually harassed all the time. That has no place in our conversation.’
AC: “It also implies that women who have spoken out were more vulnerable and therefore they were more targeted. That's not cool.”
CH: “Would you describe yourself as self-conscious or do you feel confident?”
AC: “I think I'm fairly confident. There's moments when I feel self-conscious, of course. I think it's a family trait that we're all quite loud and annoying. Live television can make me feel self-conscious and unprepared. I feel like I'm either unprepared or the dumbest person in the room.”
CH: “Let's talk about your family. You guys are close, right?”
AC: “We're very close. And we all live really close to one another — like a 20-minute walk from each other. But, not in a weird way. They're quite vibrant and funny. I'm the youngest.”
CH: “I'm the youngest, too. You're the youngest of how many?”
AC: “There's four of us. I'm the youngest of two older brothers and one older sister. They just rip the piss out of me every day. It's great. I'm closest to my brother, just because he's been living with me recently. He’ the one I get the most info on.”
CH: “Be careful of that situation. My brother moved in with me and then didn't move out.“
AC: “That's exactly what happened! He said, ‘Can I come to stay at yours for a week?’ It was five months before he finally moved out. But I loved it. It was really fun.”
CH: “Mine was fun, too, until the third year. I was like, ‘Listen, buddy.’ Now he lives in the South Pacific on an island called Palau. I'm like, ‘You really need to find your own life.’ And then, he's like, "I'm in the South Pacific." Well done.”
AC: “Wow. He really went for it.”
CH: “So, speaking of the joys of family, do you want children?”
AC: “I'm open to having children. It's not that I'm eyeballing babies and trying to snatch them from prams. But they seem nice, sure. If I was in love with someone and they wanted to start a family, I'd be open to the idea. But I'm not so obsessed with a child that I would prioritize that over meeting someone and falling in love. I think it's that order of things.”
CH: “What's your relationship status right now? I know you got out of a relationship after two years.”
AC: “I did. Yeah, I'm single. I'm single and ready to mingle, but no one to mingle with.”
CH: “Well there's plenty of people to mingle with. You should enjoy your singledom, because it's very rare that anyone remains single for very long. My take on it is: when you are single, you should embrace it and be very joyful that you're not tethered to somebody and that you could do what you want, when you want, and how you want. It's usually just temporary.“
AC: “Is it? I've had phases of being single for really long spells of time. They just have to be funny. I've realized that over most things.”
CH: “I think a sense of humor is paramount too. I am very shallow in the sense that I like a man to be good looking, for me. I have to be physically attracted to him. But then humor on top of that makes them 10 times even better looking.”
AC: “Exactly.”
CH: “What was the impetus for your decision to move back to London? I know you talked about feeling more grounded by moving back there.”
AC: “A lot of my friends in England have families, or are getting married and having their first baby. So coming back here is comforting, because everyone is on a bit of a slower pace, whereas in New York, you can get to 70 and you're still getting pissed and playing pool at Sophie's. My last trip there, I was so sad I had moved away. But, I just understood that getting drunk on Avenue A every day wasn't the best idea for productivity. And my age. It was like they'd moved all these new extras in. Everyone was getting much younger: the same sort of outfits, but fewer wrinkles. I was starting to feel like I wasn't young enough to do it anymore.”
CH: “Has growing older changed the way you dress at all? Are there things you won’t wear anymore?”
AC: “Over the knee socks is one that had to stop happening. I didn't even notice the day when it was suddenly wrong to wear them. It's more like High Street stores suddenly feel weird. I used to go into them and be like a kid in a candy store, like, ‘Wow I can wear anything. I love all these things. I'm spoiled for choice. I don't have the money to get all the things I want.’ Whereas now, I walk in and I'm like, ‘None of this is appropriate for me.’ I can't walk out in a crop top and sweatpants. That might be about trends changing and It girls changing. But that would look very odd to me. Maybe that has to do with age.”
CH: “What is your version of an American’s sweatpants around the house?”
AC: “I'm always uncomfortable. I've actually got two bedrooms in my house, and I've been sleeping in the lesser bedroom for three years without even noticing. I recently graduated to the larger bedroom with the nicer bed and it's amazing. I actually sleep now. I think on a certain level, I like being uncomfortable. If there's a sofa, I'll sit on the floor. I'm very odd in that way. The same thing goes for sweatpants. I understand there's a world of luxury waiting for me in comfortable, breathable fabrics, but I'm the kind of person who will sit on a 12-hour flight in denim hotpants. I don't know why. I seem to have a problem with comfort. It's very odd. So I don't wear sweatpants. I wear whatever is the least comfortable thing. I don't like to be too leisurely.”
CH: “What about workout pants? Do you ever wear workout pants?”
AC: “No. I would have to work out to wear workout pants.”
CH: “Not necessarily. Some people wear workout pants to imply that they're working out or they have worked out.”
AC: “That's very L.A., isn't it? The only exercise I do is this ballet exercise called Ballet Beautiful with a woman who I think was made in a lab, Mary Helen Bowers. I get to wear a leotard on top and then ballet shoes. Even my workout gear is completely ridiculous.”
CH: “I hope I run into you on a plane wearing hotpants. That would be very entertaining for me. I also don't appreciate sweatpants on men or women in public, and especially on planes.”
AC: “On men, they don't know we can see their dicks.”
CH: “That's an L.A. thing, too. Men in L.A.: You are so foul. Sweatpants are so disgusting. Not only can we see your penis, we can see your balls. It's disgusting. Sweatpants on men should be irradiated completely. That's a good ending point, don't you think? That's a good note to end on.”

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