Brace yourself,” Alexa Chung tells Vogue two days prior to her autumn/winter 2019 show, her second on the London Fashion Week schedule. The tale that follows, as we sit in her airy De Beauvoir studio watching the model casting unfold, takes us through Japan, West Coast America and back to Dalston.
On her travels last year, she was struck by how similarly vivid and overwhelming Tokyo, where she launched her Bloomsbury-inspired “Virginia” collection in April, and Big Sur, when summering in close friend Tennessee Williams’s log cabin, were. The “vast expanses of greenery encroaching on industrial spaces” is reflected in the nature sprouting in her purposefully barren, brutalist show space. The genesis of the clothes lies in her image research around ’70s Tokyo women wearing prairie-esque dresses and ’80s American farming societies sporting tabards and smocks. “I was ruminating on this idea of a female community embarking on an off-the-grid journey of escapism,” she explains. “And how they would look when they emerged from that period of incubation and regrouping.”
Having a narrative helps Chung, who founded her eponymous brand in 2017, connect with the woman she is designing for. But, unlike her previous collections, which she views in a similar vein to albums, she’s starting to rely on feelings rather than scenarios to steer her sketches. “My flirtation with band members taught me that music which seems to be about nothing is always about something,” notes Chung. “Joan [the last collection] came out of quite a miserable time for me, and I was interested in how I could bring some kind of beauty out of scraps.”
Amidst the printed prairie dresses and ruffled blouses, Chung is particularly taken with her tailoring in the aptly titled “Off The Grid” collection. Her signature corduroy suit has progressed into an emerald velvet number, and there are plenty of sensible, wearable options, too. A black blazer with wide satin lapels and an oversized herringbone jacket instantly look part of Chung’s wardrobe when she shrugs them on, and she declares a backless tabard her dream top as it’s classic yet a touch fetishist. “Oh, and the shoes,” she gushes of her platform-loafer hybrids that sing “disco”. As she brushes through the rails, commenting on where materials were sourced and which team member was responsible for specific accessories, you can see that she knows her way around the garments more. “Before, I was flying blind a bit,” she admits. “Now I know what a true limitation is versus what someone tells me.”
She’s feeling “comfier” in her position as a creative director after the success of her London Fashion Week debut, too. “People understand our world better,” she comments on the increased customer engagement since moving away from a see-now-buy-now model in September. “I’d enjoyed quite a lot of collaborations before that point, so being on-schedule sort of made it all official.” Second time round, the pressure is off. “I was really trying to get it right… to play by the rules and understand the industry,” she says of staging an extravagant set mirroring an airport departure lounge. “As we grow and mature as a business, it’s important not to put ourselves under undue pressure if it’s not worth it.” Shows, then, will only happen if they are financially viable. “I’m still running a biz. We can’t pretend we have access to millions of dollars.”
Despite having woken up at 5am for the last few days to fire off emails about specific types of blinds (for her home) and earrings (for her), this acceptance has freed her up. She’s started to enjoy getting dressed again. “For the first year, I couldn’t even come up with a good outfit if I tried,” she laughs. “I was like a tired mum.”
Next on the agenda is a collaboration with Sunglass Hut, which will go on sale after the show, and a pop-up shop – “the Luella kind where people come to hang out” – to test the waters before a permanent bricks-and-mortar presence. And then, perhaps on to menswear, because of the persistent requests of her male friends, who are more demanding than her female ones. For now, she’s just pleased to have got that “ooh, clothes!” feeling back. It shows.