You would really like Alexa Chung. She’s famous for having loads of celebrity mates and an It hairstyle and wearing quirky clothes, which perhaps doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, but you would. The celebrity mates and the hair and the quirky clothes are all part of her, but she is also the kind of woman who, when she puts on a black leather minidress that shows ridiculously long, slender legs, starts pointing out to me and the other women around her on Guardian Weekend’s shoot how dry and hairy those legs are. (They’re not, but still.) When she tells a funny story about the time she and Pixie Geldof got locked out on a smoking terrace at a party and Taylor Swift rescued them, she somehow makes herself the butt of the joke: the loser who wasn’t famous enough for the bouncers to bother rescuing. She totally gets that us normals find the Alexa Chungs of the world a bit annoying, and goes out of her way not to be.
This week, Alexa Chung the person became Alexachung the all-one-word fashion brand, as the first collection from her new label goes on sale. Chung has ruled best-dressed lists for a decade, taking home the British fashion award for style icon three years in a row. She has a Mulberry handbag named after her, which is pretty much the fashion industry equivalent of an OBE. Having experimented with monetising her best-dressed status via collaborations for fashion brands Madewell, AG Jeans and Marks & Spencer, Alexachung is the next logical step.
Today we are shooting portraits of Chung as her five style icons, styled by her, mostly using clothes from her own collection. So there is Alexa channelling Françoise Hardy in a trenchcoat and flared trousers; paying homage to David Hockney in knitwear; in a Brighton-rock striped trouser suit (Brian Jones). There is Alexa in an ice-blue mini-cheongsam, a tribute to Maggie Cheung in In The Mood For Love; and in the aforementioned leather minidress as Marianne Faithfull. “The people whose style I love are all in this collection,” Chung says. “I didn’t want it to be all about me – that would be boring. In the end, my taste and my eye get in the way, and everything ends up being stuff I like wearing, which I think is fine. But I didn’t want it to be obvious.” Peter Pan collars and princess-line coats, for instance, two looks Chung has practically trademarked over the years, are nowhere to be found.
She arrives at the Hackney studio, just a mile or so from her home, wearing a Prada menswear jumper in green and grey stripes over a vintage T-shirt with the legend Give A Damn, over high-waisted, off-white AG Jeans. It’s her look: Camden Town rock band front man meets French Vogue fashion assistant. Climbing into her flares and trench coat, Chung enthuses about the way Françoise Hardy is “quite tomboyish, but with this very feminine energy. I am obsessed with that iconic picture where she’s wearing a raincoat, in the street, with her camera. I mean, what a babe.”
The shoot takes time, because Chung is an accomplished but easily distracted model. She barely stops talking, with an excellent line in chat that covers cronuts, light-up dance floors and why it is that when you’re in a toilet cubicle and anyone tries the door, you say, “Someone’s in here!”, when you mean yourself. For every two minutes of posing, you get five of physical comedy; there is a lot of singing, and a spirited impression of the Beach Boys on stage at the 1964 TAMI show. Chung tucks into a banana and flat white as the camera clicks, all the while making plans for the evening when she is – of course! – on the list for a friend’s gig.
There is a famous photograph of David Hockney in his studio, wearing a navy rugby shirt, white-collared with a pink stripe. “We basically completely ripped that off for this sweater,” Chung confesses cheerily, layering her own navy-and-pink sweater over a white shirt. Meanwhile, Brian Jones was the inspiration for a pink-and-red striped trouser suit that looks elegant once Chung has it on, but is fairly bonkers.
In fact, the surprise of her first collection is how out there it is. Part of Chung’s appeal is that, in contrast to the flamboyance of most street-style stars, she is often seen in wearable clothes: many jumpers, jeans, a Chelsea boot as often as a stiletto. But her brand plays up her kooky side. “I deliberately went quite weird,” she says. Adjust your Glastonbury wardrobe accordingly.