Alexa Chung: the one to watch

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Alexa Chung: the one to watch

Postby Admin » Tue Jun 24, 2008 9:35 pm

She's the it-girl of the moment, with an Arctic Monkey for a boyfriend and a place on every catwalk front row. All in all, things are going rather well for the television presenter Alexa Chung. Just don't ask her to be serious, says Justine Picardie

If you're over the age of 30, or don't have teenagers in the house, then you might not have heard of Alexa Chung yet. But she is, quite literally, The One to Watch: popping up on a multitude of television programmes as a presenter, having made the transition from early-morning and late-night shows to prime time. She's also been adopted as this year's it-girl by the fashion industry, with her quirky clothes sense admired by everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Luella Bartley; plus, her boyfriend is Alex Turner, lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, all of which makes her just about the coolest kid in town.

As it happens, she's 24, but seems younger, with the looks and language and confidence of a beautiful teenager; all long legs and wide-eyed 'wows' and gusts of laughter. On the day we meet, she has just arrived back in London after a holiday with her boyfriend - a week in Santorini, then a few days in New York - and she is dressed in an outfit that will doubtless be copied by thousands of aspirant Alexa look-a-likes, who follow her every movement through the pages of weekly celebrity magazines and frenetic online forums. 'I'm dressed like a five-year-old,' she says, cheerfully, and you can see what she means, in a little blue corduroy pinafore from APC over an embroidered peasant smock, with tanned bare legs and flat black Chanel pumps. But the overall effect is pure Lolita, and when I tell her this, she gives a squeal of pleasure. 'I love Lolita,' she says, by which she may be referring both to the Nabokov novel (cited as a favourite in a previous interview) and its namesake's afterlife as fashion icon. 'I like my hem-lines short. I can't commit to something below the knee.'


By now, there may be readers who are asking, 'What is the point of Alexa Chung?' - a reasonable question, to which I can only answer, she is at this moment a leading representative of an influential brand of quirky 21st-century Englishness. Hence her current status makes her sought-after by fashion designers, who want Alexa Chung in the front row of their catwalk shows, and television commissioning editors, who see her as providing the elixir of youth in a bottle. She looks exotic - her father is Chinese, her mother English - but speaks in the classless yet recognisably Home Counties vowels of a girl with a comfortable upbringing in Hampshire ('My dad was a graphic designer, my mum stayed at home and looked after us'). The youngest of four children (two older brothers, one sister), she had a pony, a penchant for the recorder, on which she learnt to play Guns N' Roses' guitar solos ('I can still do it! I was showing my boyfriend the other day!'), and a passion for fashion from the start.

'I definitely always had a look going on,' she says. 'I wanted to be a fashion designer, and when my sister started studying textiles I began making myself clothes - but I broke her sewing machine. Then I wanted to do fashion journalism, and they told me at school that I should do an English degree.' She passed her A-levels (two As and a B) and was duly accepted by King's College London, but never took up the place, having been sidetracked both by a burgeoning modelling career and an older boyfriend, a photographer, with whom she set off on a Texan road trip on the day she was supposed to start at university.

'I'm kind of annoyed I didn't go to college,' she says. 'But I ended up getting a few TV commercials, and I was like, "You're paying me how much?!" Stupidly, I thought that money would keep coming in. It's a bit like gambling - you go to a casting, and you're hoping that you might earn 60 grand in a day. It's weird…' She gives a little sigh, like a momentarily downcast child, and then brightens up again almost instantly. 'But it's all turned out fine now. And the road trip was amazing! I hadn't done any of the summer reading for university, anyway… So it was never meant to be.'

She modelled for teenage magazines and mass-market brands, but her first proper break came in 2006, with a job co-hosting Channel 4's Popworld, alongside Alex Zane. Her perfect blend of clever irreverence and deadpan humour was seen to best effect in an interview with the American band Panic At The Disco when she asked them about the 'bottles of wee' thrown at them at the Reading Festival, and then corrected their grammar. The clip is now a YouTube favourite, along with (in her words) 'all these comments from American kids saying "that bitch"'. YouTube aficionados will also be aware of the numerous homemade 'Alex and Alexa' tributes, which splice together paparazzi pictures of the couple with Arctic Monkeys songs. 'So we're like the indie Ken and Barbie,' she says, when I mention these, which seems to me to be a neat description, though she also makes it clear to journalists that she won't discuss her relationship with Turner.

Fortunately, her instincts as a television pro kick in when I ask her what questions she would ask herself, if she were doing a Popworld interview with Alexa Chung. For all lovers of pop trivia, here it is, verbatim:

Alexa: Oh, what do you and Alex do in a normal day?

Me: OK, so tell me. I want to know that.

[She laughs and shakes her head.]

Me: Whose house do you stay at?

Alexa: Both. Because he's got a house, as well.

Me: What do you have for breakfast?

Alexa: Probably we don't eat. But sometimes we have Fruit 'n Fibre.

Me: Does he use your skincare products?

Alexa: No - I got him some Elemis stuff, because I love Elemis, and the men's stuff smells so great. But he had a terrible reaction to it, and I felt completely guilty.

Me: But his skin got much better when he started going out with you.

Alexa [laughing]: That's literally got nothing to do with me! Wow. So you thought he was having access to the Stella McCartney skincare range? No, I think it was when he cut down on touring and whisky.

Me: What are your babies going to be called?

Alexa: Evie. I was just thinking about that, weirdly. And Wolf, if it's a boy.

Me: And will it be Turner or Chung? Wolf Chung has a good ring to it.

Alexa: If I don't have a kid called Wolf Chung in the next 20 years, I'll be really gutted.

Meanwhile, before motherhood intervenes, she is out and about, having a very good time. 'I'm going to Glastonbury,' she says, 'and the day after, I'm flying to Paris to do a piece [for a new Channel 4 series, Gok's Clothes Show, on which she is a presenter] behind the scenes at a couture show. So I'll be covered in mud when I meet Karl Lagerfeld. It's going to be excellent. And we've been road-testing heels - those Gwyneth Paltrow skyscraper heels. It was really funny - we got a team of runners to go to a racetrack and run in all the season's highest heels. It was the funniest thing I've ever seen.'

Chung herself is celebrated for almost single-handedly bringing back flat shoes - Russell & Bromley sold out of its traditional leather loafers after she was seen wearing them - but says she also wears heels, 'usually in my house. Yesterday I wore them to make soup. They were Moschino shiny navy shoes. I can't wear them to go out, so I just wear them in the house. I get changed about three times a day when I'm at home. Yesterday I wore a black Juicy Couture dress with the high heels when I was making the soup. It was vegetable soup, but it went wrong, because I don't have a liquidiser. So I said, "Let's pretend we're peasants," and we ate rustic bread with peasant soup.

'I think people are gonna go for the Sound of Music vibe this autumn,' she continues, with the same giddy jokiness, when I ask her about her predictions for next season's fashion. 'Hence the peasant smock today.'

A much-publicised opportunity to see Chung tackle a darker side of fashion - an investigation into sweat shops in a Channel 4 documentary titled The Devil Wears Primark - had been abruptly pulled from its scheduled slot at the beginning of June, just before I interviewed her. At the time, there was speculation that the programme had been removed for legal reasons, though Channel 4 said it simply wasn't yet ready for transmission. 'It definitely will go out,' says Chung, when I ask her about the delay. 'Panorama are putting one out, too, so there's a race to get them out. But I think they'll be different.' Working on the documentary was, she says, 'the hardest thing I've done'.

She wasn't involved in the filming in India - 'someone else did that, with hidden cameras and everything' - nor did she actually have to work in the replica sweat shop that the programme-makers set up in this country, 'but I was hanging around there. It was boiling hot and the loo was disgusting, it was gross, and that's what made it miserable. I thought that doing a documentary would be something I'd really enjoy, but actually I didn't. I couldn't look at the camera - I found that really challenging, not to make stupid jokes. You've got to be honest, and I found it hard.'

We have a slightly desultory conversation about how to bring ethical trading to the fashion industry - 'It's difficult, because there aren't enough options or other alternatives' - and then it's as if she gathers herself together to be serious. 'We're all buying stuff we don't need, that's the problem, because of how greedy everyone has got. She says, with all her bags, laden with gifts downstairs. But it would be better to just save up and invest in one piece, rather than getting disposable clothes. Now people think it's cool to say, "I only paid £7 for this." So maybe it will flip round, and we'll say, "It cost £700."'

But we're in a difficult economic climate, I say to her. 'Yeah,' she says, but it's clear this doesn't mean much to her - and how could it, having grown up knowing only good times, and now with the world at her feet? She freely admits to having no interest in politics: 'I was watching the Clinton-Obama stuff [on the television] at the airport yesterday, and I was like, "So what's happening in Puerto Rico?" I don't understand what it means. I haven't even read a paper. I could tell you about music or fashion, but not about anything else.'


'Have you ever voted?' I ask. 'No. That's bad, isn't it? If I'm representing a generation, that's bad…' Then she laughs, and says, 'I just bought three disgusting bags in Greece because in the week that I was there I hadn't bought anything. So I bought these really gross things because I can't help but want to buy new stuff.' Then she shrugs, so prettily that it's impossible to disapprove; at least not without feeling like a grumpy old woman. Far more importantly, here is her top tip for summer footwear: 'Sebago deck shoes in brown leather.' You heard it here first. ... achung.xml
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