‘I am part builder, part child’ – Alexa Chung talks personal taste
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My personal style signifier is denim, especially dungarees – I feel safe in them. Whenever I put them on, it’s as if I’m living up to my true personality. I am part builder, part child. The practical element of the dungaree is very appealing, and that they make everyone look immediately cool – low-key and relaxed. My first pair, in the early ’90s, were white denim with printed flowers, probably from Gap. Now I like the look of those Celine railroad ones, and we also made a pair that I love for our very first Alexa Chung collection.
The last thing I bought and loved was a pair of sneakers from the Wales Bonner x Adidas collab. I’ve recently become a bit of a trainer convert – I used to wear plimsolls or tennis shoes – and now I can’t stop buying them. I think the Wales Bonner ones are brilliant – really clever colours, retro-classic and cool.
And on my wishlist is a pair of Khaite cowboy boots, the brown and navy ones. I often get this sensation with clothes that I become obsessed with – at first I find them almost grotesque; they make me feel a bit sick. Then I look at them again, and realise it’s not repulsion, but desire. That happened to me with these Khaite boots, and now I lust after them.
The place I can’t wait to return to is New York. Half of my good friends are there, and I love the energy of the city. I used to live in the East Village – I still have an apartment there – and to me that is the heart and soul of Manhattan. While places like Tribeca or Williamsburg continued to be gentrified, there was something about the prewar buildings in the East Village that meant they were a bit uglier or less attractive. And also the stigma of it being Alphabet City back in the day – it’s still a bit rough around the edges. So a lot of musicians, artists and creative people live there, and we always had really fun nights.
The fashion moment that changed everything was the internet, because it wiped out microcosms of trends. Things used to be more tribal, and you’d use clothing to signify what you were into – be that music, film, art, even banking. And while that still happens, this interconnectivity has eradicated more interesting trends and made things a bit homogenised, or maybe just move more quickly.
My earliest fashion memory is drawing my favourite outfit at school, when I was five. It was head-to-toe Oilily, and included pink suede desert boots, white cotton embroidered trousers and a gingham smocked shirt – not far off what I would wear now.
The best gift I’ve given recently is an AeroPress. The person I gave it to is very interested in gadgets and likes coffee – and it makes a divine brew in seconds.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is twin snake-shaped vases from Tat London, a second-hand interiors shop. Owner Charlie Porter gave me these glass vases, where you put a flower in the snake’s mouth. They are elegant, weird and timeless.
The last meal that truly impressed me was at The Marksman in Hackney – every single thing they serve is delicious. I always spend the whole meal warning everyone that they need to save space, because the brown-butter and honey tart is next-level. It’s got a hard crust, is lukewarm when they serve it and just melts in your mouth.
My style icon is Anjelica Huston in the 1970s. She would wear old men’s blazers with T-shirts and fantastic denim, or OTT floor-length glittery dresses, and always look fantastic. And also my Grandpa Kwan, who has sadly passed away now, but if he was alive today you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between him and Harry Styles. He would wear a knitted tank top with a striped shirt underneath, high-waisted slacks with an excellent belt, Nike trainers and a flat cap.
The last music I downloaded was Marianne Faithfull’s cover of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from 1985. I love Marianne, and think as she got older her voice became really interesting. In the mid-1960s when she was performing with the Stones, she sounded innocent, but then she sort of rebelled and became really naughty. Her voice for me on that song is heartbreaking, it sounds like someone who’s really lived through stuff.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is mustard cotton men’s pyjamas from Charvet. They’re the most expensive pair I’ve ever bought, but I’ve worn them throughout lockdown and I absolutely love them. Pyjamas are 10-a-penny, yet they’re really hard to get exactly right. The lapel on these is perfect, and I love that they’re oversized. I wear them in the summer over a bikini, and then obviously to sleep in, and you can even wear them with jeans. I like feeling like a grand old man.
I hate gadgets – I’m a technophobe. My work recently had to get me a computer for the first time in three years – they were really shocked to discover I didn’t have one. I often call myself a Victorian woman. I find the thought of gadgets very boring – I glaze over if anyone starts talking about what app they’ve got.
I am very bad at skiing. Last year, I went to Verbier with my boyfriend [Orson Fry] and his family, and ended up going down the mountain on my bum, tears streaming down my face. Before I went on the trip, I’d researched cool skiing outfits and was refusing to wear the high-tech stuff. So I was wearing an Argyle jumper with a neckerchief and an inappropriate jacket, and all the snow collected up my back – I was like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
This year, I’ve really come to appreciate not flying. I’ve spent a lot of my life jet-lagged, and it’s been so nice not falling asleep in meetings at 3pm.
An indulgence I would never forgo is staying at Le Bristol Paris. The rooms are amazing and the swimming pool is outrageous – it looks like an old teak ship. The staff are also really helpful – one time, it had been a few years since I’d last stayed there, and when I opened the cupboard, a shirt I’d lost was hanging there. They’d held on to my belongings – they’re a class act.
I feel most comfortable when I’m wearing an oversized jacket, like The Rich blazer we do, which is an easy way to make yourself look smart without making an effort. I veer between wearing something that’s masculine-inspired and, at the other extreme, ultra-girly – maybe a pink cocktail dress, like a sugar plum fairy. I feel just as comfortable in either. There was a dream dress by Erdem that I wore to a Vogue party once, and a Gucci cocktail dress that I wore to its show with Scottish Highland Fling boots and a leather jacket.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Chaos by Tom O’Neill. It’s about the Manson murders, and it examines what was omitted from the case of these strung-out hippies who were at the behest of an evil mastermind. I love intrigue and any kind of detective work. I’m also fascinated by the ’60s in general, and it was interesting learning about this moment in time when one of America’s biggest threats appeared to be the drug scene.
The first piece of clothing I ever bought myself was a Mulberry bag. When I first started modelling, at the tail end of the ’90s, a model I knew at Storm had one – a Roxanne – and I used to covet it so much. So once I’d made some money, I went to Harrods and bought myself a tan Bayswater, which I chose because I could fit my modelling portfolio in it.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a photographer. Before I got my first TV job, on Popworld, I was applying to study graphic design and photography. I love photography. In my attic I have a box of photographs that I have taken throughout my career – some quite good ones from Met Galas [which Chung has attended since 2010], and lots from my 20s, in New York.
The beauty staple I’m never without is Code 8 Radiate Beauty Balm, a BB cream that is really easy to put on and immediately brightens your face. A make‑up artist used it on me once, and I noticed that it made my skin really balmy and dewy, like dolphin skin. And I’ve ended up working with them.
In my fridge you’ll always find fish – I got into cooking in the first lockdown, because we had to, and I don’t usually eat meat. The other night I made kedgeree – I can’t say it was fantastic, but it was something.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is vintage clothes. My finest haul was from a shop in Argentina a few years ago. At the time I was doing a collaboration with Madewell in the US, and I found the majority of my inspiration for that collection in a vintage shop – a fluffy jumper, a Peter Pan collar dress, a blouse and some hot pants. It was a fruitful mission.
My favourite website is New York magazine’s The Cut – the articles are really funny. There was one the other day that just read, “What If the Aliens Are Hot?” – you don’t even need to read the rest of the piece. I also love Ask Polly, the agony aunt/therapist in residence. She gives advice in a real way – she’s also not afraid to tell people off if she thinks they’re being annoying.
When I need to feel inspired, I try and allow myself to get bored. If I’m too stressed, I have zero ideas but if I’m relaxed and have nothing going on, I become creative.
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose the Lower East Side in New York – it’s got my favourite quadrant of vintage shops. Every Sunday, I’d meet friends for brunch, and then we’d walk around the shops and ultimately end up in a bar for a drink – it was really fun. There’s one called Ritual Vintage, which has a good selection of denim. I once saw Chloë Sevigny in there rifling through the racks, so if it’s good enough for her… Another called Cobblestones is run by a chatty older woman who always made me feel like a real New Yorker. Then there’s interiors store John Derian, which is fantastic for gifts, and a little further up is ABC Carpet, a homeware store that is just perfect. You could throw your bag in any direction, and it would hit something that you’d want to buy.
I have a collection of navy-blue jumpers. They serve different purposes: skinny ribbed ones to wear under dungarees, oversized “boyfriend” ones for keeping warm in winter, rollnecks, cardigans, vests – there’s always a reason to buy another, to my mind. The reason I have so many is because I still haven’t found the ideal one.
If I didn’t live in London, the city I would live in is Paris. I probably have a skewed view of it, because I’m only ever there during Fashion Week, but it’s always a lot of fun. And it looks as if a really fabulous man turned up and decorated everything. The buildings are so pretty, like a cake but made out of cement. My favourite neighbourhood is Saint-Germain-des-Prés, because I love L’Hotel and all the antique shops and art galleries there. Bar Hemingway is always good fun, and The Broken Arm in Le Marais is the best shop ever and has a delicious café attached to it.
With time on my hands, I’ve rediscovered drawing. It’s something that I forgot I enjoy doing. In the party years, I would do illustrations for the packaging of a collaboration I had worked on, so it became a bit less enjoyable. But drawing just for fun for no one else to see has been quite hypnotic and relaxing, and a good way to experiment with different print designs.
The one artist whose work I would collect, if I could is Daniel Arnold. He walks around Manhattan taking incidental street portraits, and his images are vibrant and full of life. My favourite is a picture of two sisters who he said were kind of dragging each other up the street when he caught the moment. It looks a bit like an image from The Shining, taken on a hot New York day.
My favourite room in my house is the outside, which is what drew me to it in the first place. It’s funny to me because it looks like a vicar’s lodge in the Cotswolds, but it’s in Dalston. It’s such a ridiculous house – only I would have bought it.