On a recent afternoon at the Bowery Hotel, over a burrata caprese salad, green beans and a Coke, the British television host, model and pop-culture phenomenon Alexa Chung was explaining her hair color, which often calls to mind a grown-out dye job. “I said ‘I want to look like Kurt Cobain,’” said Chung, 26. “I said, ‘I’m going to America and they’re going to try and make my hair shiny and I don’t want it. I want to look like Kurt Cobain.’”
In town filming Thrift America, a new television series about shopping for vintage clothes and other paraphernalia, Chung was wearing a dark skirt from J.W. Anderson, an Isabel Marant cardigan and Russell & Bromley flats — her penchant for flats being but one characteristic, along with her oft-copied ombre hair, that has captivated fashion’s capricious higher ranks.
“All of my beauty icons are men,” she said in her throaty alto. “It’s all about effortlessness. It’s all about looking underdone.”
Chung’s sartorial flair (when a dress didn’t arrive in the mail recently, she wore black shorts and a white button-down shirt to the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards) has earned her a coterie of high-powered admirers. She’s a hipster muse for Karl Lagerfeld; a regular on the pages of fashion and music magazines; and an inspiration for young bloggers, who track her every look as if she were a deer in the crosshairs.
“She’s become the Kate Moss for this new generation,” said Jane Keltner de Valle, the fashion news director for Teen Vogue. There was a time when all the pretty young things wanted was, as Keltner de Valle put it, “Kate, Kate, Kate. And now they say ‘Alexa!’”
Chung’s run at “it” girl-dom in the US (a title she dismisses) has not been without strain. Though she is a huge star in England, her American television debut, MTV’s It’s On With Alexa Chung, was canceled last year after two seasons.
But that hiccup has hardly damaged her A-list status in the fashion world. In the last year, thousands of people placed themselves on a waiting list for the Alexa, a US$1,150 buffalo-leather handbag named for Chung by Mulberry, the British luxury goods company. Inspired by Chung’s carrying of a vintage Mulberry men’s briefcase, the new bag was “an immediate best-seller,” the company’s chairman and chief executive, Godfrey Davis, told investors.
And it spawned an array of other satchels like the Alexa Hobo and the Oversized Alexa.
Many pieces in a collection Chung helped design for Madewell, the chain owned by J. Crew, sold out quickly after its debut in September. (Among the offerings: a fisherman-knit sweater and a blue silk dress with mini polka dots.) Millard Drexler, chairman and chief executive of J. Crew, told investors on an earnings call that women were curious about Chung: “Especially the 20-something crowd — they are Googling her all the time.” (He also said he suspected that outside of New York, most people had probably never heard of Chung.)
While Chung has been on the covers of the British editions of Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar and was identified last month by the Sunday Telegraph as one of the 100 most powerful women in Britain, the American mass audience thus far appears to be more interested in the antics of the Kardashian sisters and Kate Gosselin than Chung’s brand of offhanded chic. Scheduled to be broadcast on PBS next summer, Thrift America might introduce Chung to a larger segment of the nation. On the show, she and Maya Singer, the series creator and the editor of special projects for Style.com, will comb the country’s consignment shops, garage sales and flea markets for old clothing, furniture, music equipment and other potential treasures to use in various creative endeavors. A few of the places they plan to visit include Orlando, Florida; Detroit; Nashville, Tennessee; Alabama; and Brooklyn, New York (and, on a less populist note, fashion capitals like Paris and London as well). In the first episode, Chung helps Pamela Love, a gothic jewelry designer, create a pop-up shop in London during Fashion Week.