Marks & Spencer debuts a collaboration with fashion darling Alexa Chung today.
The British model and TV presenter has reinterpreted 31 pieces from M&S’s clothing archive for the first in a series of “Archive by…” projects aimed at buoying the high-street heavyweight’s fashion sales figures.
CEO Marc Bolland announced his decision to step down in January following a larger-than-expected 5.8% fall in festive-period clothing sales.
The challenge of attracting young women’s wear customers to M&S, while keeping the store’s older core-base happy, predates Bolland’s six-year tenure, but has grown more urgent with increased competition.
Chung was first linked with the brand last year, when her apparent affection for a faux-suede midi-skirt (sold for an atypically luxe £199), was credited with helping boost women’s wear sales in the first quarter.
Taking a risk on edgy high-fashion collaborations, such as H&M’s with Maison Martin Margiela, would be completely off-brand for mum’s favourite retailer.
Recent projects have blended name recognition with mild creative impact. Models Jourdan Dunn and Dave Gandy did 2015 capsule collections for children and men, respectively.
Chung’s pieces were first unveiled at a London Fashion Week party in February. While clearly designed to suit a variety of body types, they are quite “her.” You can certainly picture her pairing the ‘Eliza’ dress, a blue and lime Paisley-print mini, with lace-up ballet flats.
The ‘Hattie’ lemon camisole would work with her favourite Balenciaga skinny jeans. Chung modelled the ‘Frances’ long trench-coat on the day. The double-breasted 70s style will be available in khaki or black and certainly looks like something she might keep in her wardrobe.
The “Alexa Factor” is comparable to the “Kate Factor” (Moss or Middleton), but less briefly explained.
Chung is an interesting Voguette-muse-it girl hybrid that manages to combine various telly and product- endorsement jobs with a contributing editorship and an international, eminently Insta-worthy social life. She did not get the fashion world’s attention through modelling or her man, though both made her more familiar to the general public.
Chung modelled for CosmoGIRL! and mass-market brands like Sunsilk and Urban Outfitters in her teens and early 20s. She spent 2006 through 2008 interviewing bands and covering music festivals for Channel 4 and its youth satellites.
Her on-air style was as high-street and colourful as any youth TV presenters, but her looks often seemed inspired by female musicians. Amy Winehouse’s feline eyeliner and 50s knee-socks. Florence Welch’s Victorian nightie-dresses and 70s men’s wear.
Chung cites the Kills’ Alison Mosshart, a Floridian punk princess dressed as a New York Doll, as a style idol in a 2010 Vogue UK piece.
On her small wardrobe budget from Channel 4, she dressed like the girl with the band, even before her four-year relationship with Arctic Monkey Alex Turner.
There is a paean to groupie chic in It, her 2013 monograph. Many of the trends for which she is famous may not have originated with her but she was there, man.
Like Pattie Boyd or Jerry Hall, she wore them like a model and made you want to get her look. Chung tells online style-hub ‘Into The Gloss’ she’s been enamoured of high-fashion since childhood, but the luxury industry didn’t really sit up and take notice until she began interviewing designers in 2008.
As a roving reporter on Gok’s Fashion Fix, “I went to a Chanel show because I had to interview Karl Lagerfeld and everyone thought I was there as one of the ‘It girls’ that sit front row, but I went backstage because I was working. I walked up to talk to Karl and his bodyguard told me that I could do the very last interview.
"The only thing I could remember about the show was the music, so I asked why he played The Shirelles. He was really happy because someone was asking a new type of question for once, and my relationship with Chanel kind of grew out of that.”
She also interviewed Roberto Cavalli, Margherita Missoni, and Jean Paul Gaultier for the Channel 4 show.
“Once they’d been like, ‘She’s all right guys,’ the fashion world was like, ‘Oh!? Who’s this guy?’ and I started doing more and more [fashion shows]. So, suddenly people became interested in what I was wearing.”
Her “relationship” with Chanel actually involves being a some-time muse to Lagerfeld, as well as appearing in the brand regularly on red carpets and sitting front row at shows. She also made the 2.55 quilted handbag as part of her street style.
And her couture ties extend far beyond Chanel. Designers Erdem Moralioglu and her friend Henry Holland have called her their muse.
Her red-carpet history is as replete with Valentino and Saint Laurent as any A-lister’s. The Mulberry ‘Alexa’ bag dominated the 2010 accessories market (she had no hand in designing the satchel-tote but lent a forearm to promoting it). Church’s footwear, creator of her favourite brogues, is another British heritage name to benefit from her influence.
“Style icon” is a label too liberally applied these days but her three British Fashion Council ‘British Style’ Awards mean something. US brands AG Jeans and Madewell brought her on board to create capsule collections after she took her TV career transatlantic in 2009.
MTV’s It’s On with Alexa Chung was short-lived but New York fashion-types were smitten.
Chung’s real strength is styling.
Mixing purse-friendly, accessible clothes with designer pieces is typical of most social media-savvy celebrities, but she does put herself together especially well.
It is of course the perfect title for her collection of personal photos, funny doodles and essays on her favourite film characters (Wednesday Addams, Margot Tenenbaum) and fashion basics (denim cut-offs, a navy jumper, a leather jacket).
By the last page you’re certain she is very likeable, but the signature style that keeps her 2.2m Instagram fans fixated remains elusive.
The 60s and 70s starlets that influence her wardrobe are not new references (who doesn’t love how Diane Keaton and Charlotte Rampling dressed?).
She freely cops to “ripping off Jane Birkin and Françoise Hardy” when it comes to makeup. Like any woman interested in clothes, she adores Kate Moss and is in complete awe of Karl Lagerfeld.
By all appearances, Chung is simply a beautiful fashion nerd who works extremely hard.
And maybe that is all there is about “it,” but M&S is surely hoping she will exert the same effect on young customers that she herself attributes to Moss: “She’s paid very well to sell us things that we might previously have had no interest in buying.
That’s because anything she puts on her body is instantly transformed to the coolest thing ever.” Archive by Alexa will be available at marksandspencer.ie, Marks & Spencer Cork and at Dublin’s Dundrum, Mary St, Grafton St, and Liffey Valley stores.