Meet M&S' new muse
Far from just another 'It' girl, Alexa Chung, who has just launched her range at the high street favourite, is a global style icon, writes our fashion editor
Fame comes in many shapes and sizes. Back in 2009 when handbag giants Mulberry cannily named one of their styles the 'Alexa' after the fashion model and British TV presenter, Alexa Chung, the satchel turned into the 'must have' bag.
Back then, the 5ft 11in horse-loving Hampshire beauty with the feline eyes, signature tousled hair and rock chick credentials, was very much an 'It' girl and publicists jostled to have the presenter - first made famous on Channel 4's teen music show Popworld - at their parties.
Seven years later, Alexa (32) has moved on from being the paps' dream on the red carpet to a fashion queen in her own right. Her posts are keenly watched by her 2.2million followers on Instagram, and let's not forget the 1.5million who follow her fashion musings on Twitter.
Alexa sparked tremendous interest last September when, on the eve of New York Fashion Week, she launched the shopping app, Villoid. Previously called SoBazaar, it is backed by Telenor, a Norwegian telecom company and it's been billed as an "Instagram for fashion" where users can create their own Pinterest-style mood boards and buy clothes directly from retailers.
Tech entrepreneur is a new hat for Chung, who, after exploring the worlds of modelling and music TV, has probably moved to the most financially rewarding, productive period of her career. She has received numerous style awards, including the prestigious British Style Award (voted for by the public), which she has won three years in a row.
A contributing editor at British Vogue, Chung has made documentaries on the future of fashion and worked as an ambassador for the British Fashion Council. She is a golden gal with Burberry and often wears our own Orla Kiely - with attitude and a red lip.
To date, Chung has achieved a string of collaborations on either side of the Atlantic. She teamed up with Madewell, (little sister brand to J. Crew) and its success underlined her appeal in the US. Anyone who witnessed the rush at BT2 in Grafton Street last summer when her button-up denim miniskirt and corduroy western-style shirtdress for AG Jeans arrived into store, was left in no doubt to the appeal of this gal.
Archive by Alexa is her latest collaboration and the 31-piece collection for high-street veterans M&S arrived into stores this month to a media fanfare and good customer reaction at the tills. M&S spotted the customer/media reaction to Chung wearing their €270 1970s-style suede skirt last spring, and leapt into action. Clearly Chung had fun going through their archives and dipping into womenswear and menswear going back 75 years; resulting in her reinterpreting many of their classic looks for the contemporary woman.
There's the 'Ada' six-button, double-breasted navy blazer (€74) and the pleated 'Effie' skirt which are both hardcore M&S, classic looks that the ladies of the Women's Institute in Surbiton would have cherished. The blazer looks good in photos, but I would have preferred if it had been executed in a more substantial fabric.
The star of the advertising campaign has been the pie crust, high-necked 'Harry' blouse (top right). For the uninitiated, it is so named because of its similarity to the frilled edge one might find on an apple pie or a posh quiche. Its inclusion was pure genius - demure Princess Di meets 1980s Laura Ashley meets vintage Victorian gothic. The blouse (€53) delivers that cute but tough soft vibe worn with jeans - but be warned, those circular ruffled frills are very New Romantics - not good for those blessed/cursed with big chests.
For me, the best piece in the collection is the khaki 'Frances' belted mac coat (above right) which at €135, is the most expensive piece in the range, and I'd say a big 'Yes' to the 'Helen' white trainers (€70) which feature the words 'Yes' and 'No' punched on either shoe. Fair play to Chung for staying true to her boyish charm.
There are lots of females guilty of 'borrowing' their boyfriend's navy cable sweaters. Chung remembered her dad's one and dived into the 2003 Blue Harbour archive and came up with the 'Lillie' sweater (€53), which has a flattering, feminine cut.
Bosses at the M&S HQ have experienced mixed fortunes of late with their retail offer, so they must be charmed by the reaction to Chung's first outing for them. One thing is certain: there is value in Chung's influence and the girl who loved horses before she discovered fashion and music - and the influences of English actress Jane Birkin and Mick Jagger has customer appeal on both sides of the Atlantic.
Chung doesn't think it matters where you get your style ideas from, it's all about how you put it together. "I play different characters and that's why I like clothes," she told reporters in New York, which is where the 32-year-old now calls home.
At her own admission, Chung is a nightmare to date, but she has found romance with True Blood actor Alexander Skarsgård, having previously dated Arctic Monkeys lead singer, Alex Turner.
Writing in It, her 2013 Penguin bestseller, Chung acknowledges that Jane Birkin has "influenced me greatly without really doing much. I mean, she's done loads but it's really her look which I find so inspiring. That gamine figure, the gap-toothed grin, perpetual megababe hair... the list of her attributes."
Chung says the thing she most admires about Birkin (aside from the unaffordable Hermès bag) is her spirit, which is what I most admire about Chung - her tomboy attitude sets her apart from any of her contemporaries.
Chung concludes in her book by thanking Jane "for providing me with infinite outfit ideas and the confidence to dress like a boy but act like a girl."
When Alexa met Westlife
Back in 2003 when the boyband shot their Hey Whatever video, the bikini-clad girl cleaning the pool in the background was up-and-coming model, Alexa. She also lounged with Holly Valance in the singer's Down Boy video and in The Streets' Could Well Be In