Brunch with Buro: Alexa Chung
Je ne sais quoi
Yes she's the #kween of style, but beyond being able to throw on a good frock and get away with air-dried hair, while still looking effortlessly cool, Alexa Chung is pro-level with quick wit and unapologetic honesty. Years of TV presenting and fashion journalism of the highest order (um Vogue anyone?) can do that to a person. Or maybe she was just born with it. Now in Singapore for a quick visit, Alexa is putting her pretty face to a name, once again for Longchamp, their fifth collaboration. I caught up with the It girl herself for some banter and black coffee.
Let's start with music and a bit of a #ThrowbackThursday. You were Delta Goodrem's bestie in her famous Lost Without You music video and were the "almost kissed girl" in Holly Valance's Down Boy film clip. My early 2000's mind is blown! Most people don't know that about you right?
[laughs] They don't know that... how do you know that? Actually I've tweeted that before cause I think it's really funny! And also I met one of my best friends through the Delta video. We went to a casting, we had to pick a partner, and I just chose this girl. They told us to act like we were best friends and she was just so funny — turned out to be an Aussie, Misty Fox. So I made a great friend that day.
And for the Holly Valance video, in England we do AS's — which is before you do your A levels when you're 16 or 17 — and I got my results that day. So it was pretending to make out with Holly Valance and then phoning my dad opening an envelope asking, "What did I get?!" For a moment there, from 2000 to 2002, my job it seemed, as well as getting an education, was to throw popcorn in slow motion in music videos!
And then you got your start in TV, hosting the music show, Popworld. Did you ever have to awkwardly throw to one of those clips?
No, as I think they'd stopped hanging around by then. But I was also in a bunch of other videos and one of them was for The Streets. Recently I went to a dinner in Germany and another guest there was Mike Skinner. We caught eyes across the table and then he asked, "This is really embarrassing but do you remember being in my video?" and I said, "What do you mean embarrassing? That was the highlight of my life!" He said "I've been dining out on that for years" and I was like, "No, I've been dining out on that for years!" It was great!
I think it was more about directors looking for someone who didn't mind hanging out all day that's not going to moan about being cold on set. Someone who's really good at not complaining. That was back then. Now it's a different story [laughs].
CC hair and makeup this morning. Eek! [laughs].
Am I willing to forfeit what I believe in and how I like to express myself in order to fit in? Is self-expression more important to me? I decided it was.
Anyway, did producers ever try and change your presenting style? It's quite unique and is almost the antithesis of a cookie cutter "presenter" type.
Yeah, I know. They employed me because of that on my first show. And actually I'm really lucky 'cause Channel 4 in England were really good at nurturing talent and they were looking for irreverence, eccentricity, and I think they found joy in the idea that someone could be crap at that job, as it seemed more real and more "youth" at the time.
That said, when I moved to America, I did my MTV show. And then after that, I worked for a network called Fuse, and they sent me to presenting classes. I was so insulted as it had been a decade that I had already been presenting! They said my accent was unintelligable and I wasn't enthusiastic enough etc, but I was like, but that's my remit. That's the point of me! I asked how many times I needed to go to these classes, they said six times or something. So I said to the teacher, "I know what they want, I just don't want to do it. If I do it exactly as they want me to, be shining and boring, can we spend the rest of these sessions shopping online?"
To be fair, you do need to be more palatable though, and I understand that. But then it got to a point where I needed to make a choice: Am I willing to forfeit what I believe in and how I like to express myself in order to fit in? Is self-expression more important to me? I decided it was.
Who has been the most interesting interviewee in your career?
I was really lucky to be able to interview people like Tom Jones and Paul McCartney when I was very young, so I probably didn't appreciate that I was interviewing legends. My first interview was with Red Hot Chili Peppers and I was so casual about it. In hindsight, I think that was quite cool. But who was the most interesting? I always like Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips.
What about Karl Lagerfeld. Were you nervous?
Probably a bit. The thing is, he's actually much warmer than it seems. He's funny. He's got a good sense of humour, so he's not that intimidating if he likes you in the moment.
One of the worst ones, not the person, but what happened, was Raf Simons who I'm a big fan of. I put the voice recorder near me, not him and he talks quite quietly, so when I got back to transcribe it, I couldn't hear what he was saying so I had to go off memory of what the offices were like and create the colour for the story that way. Which was a bit of a fail.
Shit, I hope this is recording right now! So when did you suddenly cross over from presenter to It girl Alexa Chung?
I think through a couple of years of cloudy miscommunication. I was given a wardrobe budget for TV and was interviewing fashion designers sometimes when I wasn't interviewing musicians. The designers would invite me to some of the shows and people thought I was there as an It girl type person...
Kind of like a socialite?
Yeah, and I was livid about it 'cause I was like, "F*ck off! No, I'm not, I've got a job!" But after a while I was like, "How much are you going to pay me? I'll show up!" [laughs]. But this was pre-bloggers. It was a weird moment in time. I don't know if it would happen if I were to start out now.
Yes! It would!
Do you think? Social media is so weird isn't it? I don't know...
Was it a strange feeling to be interviewing celebrities and then finding yourself on the other side as one yourself?
Yeah. Really weird. I also realised how ungenerous it is when people don't give you good answers. Because it's easy to just be nice and give good answers. So when people give you a one-liner that people have already read before, or don't want to talk when you're really doing them a favour by giving their project publicity, it's even more galling these days. Because I'm like, "C'mon, man. You can dig deep! You can give me a little somethin', somethin' more!"
Do you ever get frustrated with the constant barrage of style questions? It's almost like when you see a doctor at a BBQ it's hard to resist asking them to check your mole. With you, is it the same thing... sans mole?
[laughs] Will you be a master of the checking out of moles? We were laughing upstairs actually as I was choosing what to wear and a mate was like, "How can you style this day to night?" And I said, "Shut up! 'Cause that's the number one question!" What is 'day to night'? I don't really understand the question. But no, it's fine though. I think it's a pretty easy pay-off. I'm sent lovely things and I just need to answer some questions — leave it to me!
On that note, my apologies, I'm going to be very annoying and ask you a style question myself! Do you prescribe to the French woman aesthetic? A little bit masculine, wear stripes, chic flats?
I think I figured out that I'm always trying to explore the intersection between masculinity and femininity. I don't necessarily deliberately subscribe to flats or heels or anything, it's about proportions. I don't like looking too prissy and I'm interested in juxtapositions. If something's really girly then I ask what can I do to make it a bit more unexpected. I'm just trying to entertain myself really.
Is that why you wanted to collaborate with Longchamp in the first place?
I wanted to work with them because they threw the sickest party in London, they also collaborated with Charles Anastase, who's one of my favourite artists. I had a cat bag that I loved, and then I DJ'ed for them, and they were so nice. It's rare that the client is actually in the DJ booth dancing along! They then took me for lunch the next day, we all met. It's like breeding. Shoving two horses in a field and seeing if they get on!
Five campaigns later and you're still with them!
Yeah, that and also I'm a Francophile. Is that the right word for that?
I think so!
Or does that mean I just like Franco. James Franco? [laughs]. Anything that brings me closer to Paris and being a fake Jane Birkin makes me quite happy really.
What was it like shooting this Longchamp campaign in Paree?
It was great. We shot both spring/summer and autumn/winter there with Peter Lindbergh. He is so friendly, like an uncle and really sweet, but it's intimidating as he's taken iconic images. He pulls out these insane pearls of wisdom. He's as sharp as a tack and completely on it. Let me just try and find you what he showed me — a quote of some advice he liked...
While you look for that, what would you rather? Be Jane Birkin for the day or Kate Moss?
Oh my god, Kate Moss! I'm sure Jane Birkin is lovely but I think Mossy has the most fun out of anyone. At all times. She has the same spirit as Rihanna and I like them both for the same thing. Other people craft the impression that they don't care, when they really do. Whereas they are genuinely having fun. People always say they are the best to work with...
I found it! Peter Lindbergh showed me this quote: "To express yourself as you are without any intentional fancy way of adjusting yourself is the most important thing". Isn't that amazing? He told me to read it and that I would like it.
I love it too! But I need to know, which bag is your must-have?
It must mean I really like this one, as the weather has not been appropriate, but I've been carrying the sheep skin mini tote around. Love it! It's so cute! I like anything that you can pet for security! And the other one is the Pliage Heritage Hobo — it's very different from the sheepskin. It's a chic day to day situation.
What are the key attributes of the quintessential Longchamp woman?
I'm not including myself in this category when I go on to compliment myself by listing these attributes, but I think it's about elegance, a certain je ne sais quoi. From what I understand, when I hear Sophie (Delafontaine, the Artistic Director at Longchamp) talk, the Longchamp woman is a free spirit, but also someone that's international, someone that really loves travel and is modern. Modern in the way that women seem to be able to multi-task, be dynamic and independent.
Back to this whole style thing again. Can you leave our readers with your ultimate style tip?
Hmmm... "To express yourself as you are without any intentional fancy way of adjusting yourself."