ALEXA CHUNG: SUMMER CAMP ESSENTIALS

by Matthew Bedard

KARAOKE MACHINE, A FLARE, CLEAN UNDERWEAR, MARSHMALLOWS.
We didn’t have camp where I grew up, but they sure did play their baseball
We’re a wee two minutes into our interview and conversation specialist Alexa Chung and I are already rounding second base.

“‘Did you finger her or not?’” she asks in a droll, affected, dude-like English accent. “'Oh cool, you touched her tits.'”

Unspoken high-fives are dispensed over the phone line, from N.Y.C. to L.A.

But let’s back up. We were talking about summer camp, this issue’s theme, and her impressions of the quintessentially American concept from  ’80s Hampshire, where the closest thing to camp was likely the wrist-flicks of the fashion-forward in-crowd she may or may not have run with during school.

“It’s not really a cultural thing in Britain. I imagine summer camp might be where Americans came up with the bases, where they’re like, ‘We got to second base!’ when speaking about sexual experiences. There’s no allusion in England.” She goes on, “I mentioned your camp theme to some pals in a bar last night and they were like, ‘Yeah, you know what it is. You go away, you make out with some people, and someone teaches you tennis.’”

At the moment, Chung is embracing what could be called, for the sake of sillies, a home plate act—the smoking of a cigarette—in her New York apartment. She shares that her day thus far meant breakfast of a boiled egg, cottage cheese, and an avocado before ballet class, “which isn’t really ballet, because you don’t actually dance, but you wear a leotard and ballet flats, and do exercises,” followed by a bikini wax  [for the sake of sillies, and the bases, let’s assume I’m first in line to this privy], a conference call, and now the smokes. Later she’ll meet a visiting pal and they’ll go see an Oasis tribute band, “because he’s British and we all love the ’90s.” I know, right?

Chung, who’s about to globally tour her second capsule collection with denim-domain-dominating Los Angeles label, AG—a collection that features herself in the campaign, and of which is product-broadened following S/S 15 and anticipates similar acclaim (the first ordeal sold out in a flick)—considers the campy theming a little further.

“This wasn’t summer camp, but it was like a school trip where we had to stay for a few nights in primary school. We had to go into the forest and choose a piece of wood and put it in a bag, then they gave it back to us, and we were renamed. And my name was Ivy. I hated it. Why did I have to be called fucking Ivy and why did I have to carry wood around with me? Fuck. This is not teaching me anything. Other than having a complete identity crisis.”

One could suggest identity crisis for the now 31-year-old Chung might have often reappeared since her Ivy days, considering her prolificacy across the creative pegboard, as well as the globe: commencing her career as a model, Chung surged to popularity as a TV presenter in her early 20s and has subsequently hosted several programs in both the U.K. and U.S., she’s worked as a contributing writer/editor to Brit pubs The Independent and British Vogue, busted out a memoir, attended a zillion fashion shows and cocktail do’s, and has sat indelibly perched, woman-like, atop the “it-girl” throne long enough to arguably drop the “girl” bit like Caitlyn Jenner recently added it. Irony, you see, is that Chung’s vibe, while airily considered, is blasé-ishly-boyish. And the “it” honorific, despite her colonial passport, has always been bestowed and not assumed. “It,” “girl,” or “boyish,”—through it all—Chung possesses a comfortable cool and candor that suggests openness to whatever might come.

Best part is she’s also a ham. She’s funny. Alongside her social acuity, Chung artfully mimics and pokes at swaths of culture—as you’ll notice at the front end of this article despite your not being able to hear the deadpan in her voice—which is surely what informs her camera cool when auguring a show’s run or conducting an interview, often with a dash of at least some marginally necessary dryness or, as she’ll explain below: grandma-joy in lieu of ennui. In turn, Chung is shrewdly observational—to a point where every moment is an opportunity for a self-reflexive, analytic jive, pun, or gush-session.

Here now, she speaks to the just passed moment’s importance in her life, drawing on Cali-cool for her AG design, and her love of boisterousness by way of rock n’roll.

A lot of the idea of summer camp is couched in the idea of nostalgia. I wanted to know how you relate to nostalgia? 

I spent quite a lot of time traveling alone to get to different countries to do various things. Most of my last few years have been spent on a plane and I think something about altitude and leaving all the time means that I’m always sort of imagining things and remembering things, and that’s kind of how I live. Taking stock is a constant in my life. I’m a fairly nostalgic person by nature. I’ll even reminisce about yesterday if I can. “Remember that? That was great. Yesterday was peachy. Twelve hours ago.” And all my actions in the present are just creating a memory that I can then dwell on in the future. So that’s definitely a problem for me. I am kind of nostalgic about my entire youth anyways. I loved school and that whole part of my life because I think I adored education in general. I don’t think of nostalgia as ennui. More sort of grandma-like and sweet.

You contributed a short list of Summer Camp Essentials to the magazine, [karaoke machine, a flare, clean underwear, marshmallows, fireworks]. That’s all fine for camp, or certain camps, but what about the rest of the time when you’re working in locomotion?

I try and fit a camera now, which is something I used to do and kind of forgot about. It’s that same thing going back to the nostalgia. I want to capture every moment because I’ve felt very lucky to be all of those places and I didn’t want to forget it. When I was compiling images for the book I did, I was reminded of that. But other than that, it depends on how tired I am when I’m actually packing. Sometimes I’ll do a good job of it and I’ll remember to bring little trinkets that I can hang up—even having my clothes around me and arranging them so that they become familiar. I sort of stole that from Florence, from Florence + the Machine. She was on the second year of her world tour and she hung all of her dresses around the room and they’re like ghostly fabric, and so pretty. They totally looked like her apartment, which I liked. I’m not very luxurious, I don’t really have a lot of lotions and potions. In L.A., I was dragged kicking and screaming to a crystal shop only to discover they were actually really great. I walked in and I was like, “What have you got?” And they were like, [insert nasally accent drop of a couple octaves and elimination of GB vowels] “You’re just going to be drawn to the things you need, you need to align your chakras, you’re feeling despondent about things.” Next thing you know I came out with some absurd piece—what seems to be disco ball globe in silver glitter and it weighs a fucking ton, and I have like six of these things with me. I laid them all out in the hotel room and tried to imagine that I was actually a witch; that was quite cool.

You’ve been at it now for a couple years with AG. What seeded the collaboration?

I was in L.A. for a couple of months a couple of years ago, at the beginning of the year because my friend Pixie [Geldof] and I decided, “Why don’t we just go to L.A. and not have any agenda?” We had a really nice time doing, literally, nothing—she tried SoulCycle one day but that was kind of pathetic—and I sort of fell in love with it. At some point we had people around and they brought this guy who worked for AG, and I told him I didn’t know what AG was, and they’re like, “Haven’t you seen all the billboards around?” Of course the next day I see them everywhere.

A couple of months later they proposed a collaboration, and I felt at the time, I didn’t want to do any more collaborations. I felt like it was time to get my own thing off the ground, but interestingly, right around that time, someone said, sort of pedantically, “You should always take a meeting,” next thing I know I’m flying to L.A., and I met with Sam [Sam Ku, Creative Director] and Johnathan, [Johnathan Crocker, Global Director of Communications] they picked me up, and they were playing really good music in the car—and that’s pretty cool, because usually I have to explain things to people and music’s quite big on the list for me—and I learned how they were making things, the business structure was so interesting to me. I loved that they made it in California and if they have an idea, they immediately test it and try it. That’s so unique, such a quick turnaround. I was immediately inspired. I thought, “Do I really need to be that pragmatic about life?” Like, “This should happen then, this should happen then,” when really, if it’s cool or fun you should just do it.

Do you have a favorite piece or style from the fall collection? 

Probably some of the suede pieces that we did because they were very different and took quite a bit of work; there was a suede dress with some cream embroidery that’s really pretty, and there’s a black denim jacket that goes with jeans, it’s kind of like a suit all together.

I’m sure you’re beyond bored with short-listing an idea of “influences,” but fashion design is perpetually couched in the word. As people are leapfrogging from place to place, and culture moves faster and faster, does the idea of drawing on inspiration from a certain place become muddied to you? 

I think because the work I do and the type of industries I engage in, I work with a lot of different magazines, and they’re always asking for me to sort of spell [my influences] out from my brain in a kind of cheat sheet fashion. “Who are you influenced by and who are your style icons,” and I just don’t think it’s like that. It’s almost like a chemical reaction to a human; something I like, or connect with aesthetically, I can’t really explain what it is, or who it is. I think especially with the Internet and Instagram and how everything in the world looks like one gigantic Pinterest suddenly, that sort of saturation is quite an exciting tipping. People are going to get completely bored with that, like the nostalgia thing—which I think our generation has been quite guilty of—in every artful thing. I think there’s going to be something new happening, and perhaps L.A. could be the forerunner for that creative push.

You mention one of your favorite pieces from the AG collection is a black denim jacket, your inspiration being drawn from this sort of girl gang. You’re often at festivals or rock shows; is that where that comes from? 

When I was in a small village, growing up, they would have country-dances—for the harvest supper, or for the spring fling, or whatever. There would be country dancing, or there would be old men playing hits from the ’80s on guitar. Even then, I remember standing in front, I’d always be like, “I want to hear it, more.” Or like, I’d want to be right by the drum kit—and at school, when everybody liked raves, which you call EDM, or whatever, I went to a couple of those and I wanted to die. I hated it so much. So, my friends and me started hanging around local, indie bands, or rock bands.

When I was modeling in London, I felt like I was missing a trick or something. I could see young people on the street, but I couldn’t figure out where they went at night. I was from the countryside and I got to London and was like, “I see that they’re people who look like they’d be having a good time but I can’t figure it out.” I think there were lots of people who felt similar to me; eventually we found the scene. I recently went to see Blur, and Damon Albarn—his insatiable appetite for the crowd to give him more—it’s very invigorating. The power is everyone’s attention is on one point in a room, and that’s a shared experience. I’ve never come out of a live gig and felt anything else than energized or high. I recently saw a show in New York and everyone was screaming and singing, and afterward when I came out I wanted to shove loads of bins, and I wanted to shove people! I like that boisterousness. Being stuck and being shoved—I don’t know, it’s just cool.

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