To voice her anti-Brexit stance the week UK voters went to poll in June, Alexa Chung took to Instagram (@alexachung), posting a photo of herself in a tee with the slogan “Give A Damn”. The caption: “If you live in the UK, I hope you remember to give a damn tomorrow and vote! 🙂 xx”. That’s how Chung rolls – with a charming mix of candour, goofiness, irreverence and swag.
In town recently for the opening of Longchamp’s boutique at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, the face of the French leather goods house lives up to the It girl status she’s been crowned with since the mid-2000s. Effortlessly cool attitude aside, she remains a fashion plate – striking in a simple suede shift dress and patent leather flats from Longchamp’s F/W ’16 collection; her long bob in signature out-of-bed mode during our interview.
While the media has moved on to a new gen of It girls, from social media influencers to bombshell celebrity scions like the Kardashians and Hadids (her 2.3 million Instagram followers is a fraction of theirs), she still wields as much – if not more – sartorial power.
Cue the hundreds of blogs and Tumblr accounts devoted to her OOTDs. Trends such as parkas, ballerina flats and maillots have all been attributed to her, simply because she was photographed in them.
That cred might have something to do with Longchamp selecting her as its poster girl for five seasons now. Chung herself boils it down to her “Britishness”, but is hard-pressed to distil what that means exactly. “Hilarious. I don’t know (what that means) – playful, silly, fun, stylish, cool, hip? You can’t really talk about yourself like this,” she says.
Which brings us to the other key thing that makes her It: that she doesn’t seem to care for it – or all the expectations that come with It. Ask her why Longchamp’s Le Pliage Heritage Hobo – a structured leather remake of the brand’s famous nylon tote – is her favourite from F/W ’16, and she replies with classic quirk and zero pretentiousness: “I don’t think the French will understand the irony of me calling it granny chic, but I think it’s really cool.”
On being labelled
The It girl tag has been something that the 32-year-old has, admittedly, long struggled with. “I didn’t like (the label) in the beginning as my work in the other arenas as a writer and TV host were being sidelined,” she says. “If a man who writes for GQ or did some presenting on the side was reduced to an It boy, that’ll be a little bit annoying to him, won’t it? I mean, I wake up every morning and work really hard, and you’re gonna call me an It boy?”
Ask any modern millennial woman and that multi-hyphenate background is, in fact, what set her apart from all her counterparts when she first burst onto the scene nearly a decade ago. Spotted by top London modelling agency Storm while holidaying in Majorca at age 14, she went on to become a successful TV presenter (see Popworld, It’s On With Alexa Chung, Fuse News); designer (for AG Jeans and Marks & Spencer); contributing fashion editor (with British Vogue); and author (her 2013 book of musings, drawings and photography was, ironically and possibly self-deprecatingly, titled It).
In addition, she – like many other It girls – deejays, though it’s important to point out that she was one of the first, and most rock and roll. (Her playlist for an upcoming gig: The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979, Prince’s Kiss, David Bowie’s Sorrow and Oasis’ Roll With It.) That, and she launched her own fashion app Villoid – a cross between Instagram and Pinterest – last year (take that, Kardashians).
Does the tag still bother her? Sometimes, she admits, though not as much. “I see it as a big compliment. It was a moment, and it’s fine now. What we have to see is what happens when an It girl becomes an It woman,” she says. “I’m 32, so I’m not really an It girl swinging my handbag at a gig and blah blah blah. I’m trying to grow old gracefully,” she says.
It’s a refreshingly grounded point of view in today’s image- and social media-obsessed world, where “likes” often equate to power. For example, Instagram for her is purely a “form of self-expression and fun”. “I haven’t embraced it the same way that bloggers do. I never really show any outfit head to toe. It’s very different from The Blonde Salad, for example, because you can’t tap my pictures for credits,” she says. (FYI, she has no blog of her own.)
And while she started as a model, don’t expect her to go back to being nothing more than a photogenic clothes horse. “Being a model doesn’t mean wearing beautiful clothes and being shot by someone amazing. There are so many models who don’t get to do that,” she quips. “Instead, they’re shooting for some s**t footwear brand in the rain in Nicaragua or something, on an edge of a hill. And it’s not fun trawling for castings for four days out of five trying to get one job on a Friday.”
At the opening party of the Longchamp boutique in Singapore that evening, Chung is undeniably the centre of attention, with one local social media influencer after another coming up for selfies and Instagram moments. Throughout, she’s all smiles and game, bringing to mind what she had said about fame earlier. “I don’t think having these people around is a bad thing. It’s a fact of life,” she says. “When TV first came about, people were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to ruin a generation, but we’re living in modern times with Snapchat and all. It’s all enjoyable and fun. Free-flow communication on an international scale is a good thing.” The It girl is growing up gracefully indeed.
An adapted version first appeared in Female’s August 2016 issue.