Alexa Chung has spoken of the torment she suffers when recalling how she was required to strip in front of ‘creepy men’ as a teenage model.
The 29-year-old model and presenter, said she was routinely expected to turn up at the houses of strangers and pose semi-naked for modelling assignments in the early days of her career.
She said she never told her parents what had happened because she ‘knew it was wrong’.
Speaking to The Times, Miss Chung was asked if she ever asked her parents for advice when she was trying to make her way in the modelling industry.
She said: ‘I actually kept modelling very separate. I never really asked my mum or my dad’s advice during that time and it actually felt like I didn’t want to tell them too much about the reality of what was going on - when I was taking the train to London and being asked to do certain things.
‘I already knew it was wrong. So, you know, if there was a casting where some creepy man there had gone on to his flat in Ilford, and , you know, “Take your clothes off…” and if I’d have done it, I won’t tell my mum because I know that’s wrong.’
Asked if she had ever been invited to go to a flat in Ilford to model, she replied: ‘Well, you had lots of castings where they were like, “This is for swimwear”, and in hindsight, I look back and think, “Did you really need an 18-year-old girl to strip in your front room?”
‘I get flashbacks now. Loads of flashbacks. I’ll be reminded of something because I’ve sort of blocked it out and I don’t really think of those days.
'Like, recently, I was like, “Oh my God. That’s so not on.’
Miss Chung, who has become one of the country’s most successful models, appearing in campaigns for Fanta, Sony, Urban Outfitters, and Tampax, was spotted by London-based modelling agency Storm as a 14-year-old when she was approached on a beach while on holiday in Majorca.
She has earned a reputation as a fashion icon, frequently appearing on best-dressed lists, and becoming a regular cover girl for fashion magazines including Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.
However, she has revealed in the past that working as a model when she was a young woman robbed her of her self-esteem.
The TV presenter, who hosted Channel 4 show Popworld between 2006 and 2007, said that she was deeply affected by criticism she took about her appearance when first trying to break into the industry.
She said: ‘God, did I have low self-esteem then. It had always been my mantra, at school, that as soon as I worried about putting on weight, I had to stop worrying.
‘But, you know, you’d overhear an agent and then they’d call you into a room and tell you to tone up. Which, in retrospect, I probably did need to do, but it’s not what you want to hear as a teenager and not loving life.’
However, the star admitted she was ‘addicted’ to modelling when she first started out in the business.
She said: ‘I was addicted, like a gambler. Yes, I could be making a measly £200 one day but tomorrow I might make a commercial for £300,000.’
Miss Chung, who was raised in a small village in the south of England by her mother English mother Gillian and Chinese father Phil, said that her parents are unimpressed with her career as a model.
We talked to Alexa Chung about spring fashion trends and what she plans to wear this season, her new gig hosting Fuse News and her affinity for boys in bands.
“I’m scared of bright colors,” admits Alexa Chung, the co-anchor of the nightly music-news show Fuse News. Yet despite the model and DJ’s aversion to typical spring shades, she looks forward to the warmer season: “I like seeing trees that don’t look like they’re from a witchy nightmare.” The British style star has been feted by the fashion industry for her effortlessly cool aesthetic, receiving praise from Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, designing two sold-out collections for Madewell, and collaborating on campaigns for Maje and Stella McCartney. Her style evolution hasn’t always been a smooth one. “I got punk a bit wrong when I was 17,” she admits. “I misinterpreted it and crossed it with some weird Pokémon-Tamagotchi hybrid, so I had this weird cyberdog look, which was really unfortunate for a lot of years.” Today she cares less about emulating others and dresses for herself. “I like to wear dungarees, and at the moment I’m into things that are comfortable,” she says. “People don’t take risks, because they’re afraid something isn’t in season, but you should have fun with fashion and wear what you want.”
Time Out New York: Who is your dream interview?
Alexa Chung: I’d love to interview Mick Jagger, but that might be scary.
Time Out New York: What song do you currently have on repeat?
Alexa Chung: “Everything Is Embarrassing” by my friend Sky Ferreira. [vid]
Time Out New York: What music genre’s style do you relate to the most?
Alexa Chung: I’m indie through and through. I’ve always gone out with boys in bands. I designed a collection for Madewell two years ago, and the whole inspiration for that was girls backstage. Maybe I’m pop sometimes. I think now there’s really no distinction throughout the categories. Back in the day it was more clear, but now everything is a bit wishy-washy because indie isn’t indie anymore, because it became popular. Like [now] everyone just dresses like a hipster.
Time Out New York: Who are some of your style icons in music?
Alexa Chung: There are so many. Iggy Pop, George Harrison, Jane Birkin, Patti Smith, Courtney Love…in the ’90s.
Time Out New York: What is your favorite thing to wear right now?
Alexa Chung: Well, today I turned up in my pajamas, so that is sort of an indication of where I’m at, clothes-wise. At the moment I’m into things that are comfortable. I’m on TV every day so I have to wear a full [done-up] outfit, so when I get home I’m really focused on jeans, sweatshirts and comfort.
Time Out New York: What is your style philosophy?
Alexa Chung: Stick to the classics, and you can’t ever go wrong. I see old ladies on the street who have fabulous style and realize it’s because they are probably wearing really classic items that they’ve had for years and years. I think if you find something that suits you, you should just stick to it.
Time Out New York: What’s your favorite era for style?
Alexa Chung: I love the ’60s and sort of wish all design stopped in 1967. That would be my dream. They were really just nailing it, everyone looked great, but then it started getting a bit slippery after that.
Time Out New York: Do you have a typical tiny New York City closet?
Alexa Chung: I have a really small apartment [in the East Village] and small and messy closet. I like how disordered it is, though. I’m never going to be one of those people who is good at organization. But I’m very visual. I have a catalog in my head of things I already own, so it’s easy to shop and I always know exactly what I’m looking for. I collect everything in multiples. You should see how many white shirts I’ve got.
Time Out New York: Where do you like to shop in NYC?
Alexa Chung: I love the Reformation (156 Ludlow St between Rivington and Stanton Sts, 646-448-4925 • 23 Howard St between Crosby and Lafayette Sts, 212-510-8455).I think they are really clever, and I like that they use recycled fabrics. It’s often smaller shops like them that can mimic street style quicker and in a more authentic fashion. By the time it gets regurgitated [to larger stores], it’s sort of a watered-down version, but because [the Reformation owners] are friends with the people that are wearing the cool shit, they can just design for their friends.
Time Out New York: What items do you save on? What do you splurge on?
Alexa Chung: I love Gap for affordable men’s sweaters. I tend to splurge on fancy dresses because I always think I’ll get a lot of wear out of them, but it’s false logic. You should really spend more money on the things you wear every day, like jeans. But I only own two pairs of jeans. One I designed for Madewell, so they are literally made to fit me. Another is a cheap pair from Danish brand Vero Moda that I got from a photo shoot.
Time Out New York: What do you look forward to in spring?
Alexa Chung: I like being able to walk outside without wincing at the cold, and I like when my eyeballs don’t freeze over. But I find spring and summer in NYC particularly difficult to dress for because my style is absolutely based on layering. When I can’t do that, I don’t understand what I’m going to do. I hate anything sexy, and I hate a lot of flesh showing, but there’s no other option. If I could walk around in a bikini I’d be okay, because it’s that hot.
Time Out New York: So what’s your go-to spring outfit?
Alexa Chung: Jean shorts always.
Time Out New York: What’s next? Do you plan to design more?
Alexa Chung: I’d love to design more, but I’m just too busy right now. I’m [also] always conscious that I need to do other things like writing, deejaying and TV presenting. I still keep up those pursuits because I don’t think you can rely on an ever-changing industry like fashion to constantly support you. I’m also writing a book right now.
Time Out New York: How is New York style different from British style?
Alexa Chung: New York style is really good because it’s so well put-together. I admire American women because they are really good at putting a look together that is sophisticated. As British girls, we lean toward being a bit more messy, a bit more undone and maybe a little more eccentric. I’m always amazed by how thick and shiny everyone’s hair is and how white everyone’s teeth are.
“It’s good - it’s really fun! I had a meeting with them [her publishers] this morning actually. It was a struggle before as I’m so visual - that’s how I learn…
Alexa Chung on Her New Fuse Show, Her Musical Ambitions, and How Modeling Got Her Ready for TV
“Oh, this is my favorite sign: used soul. How good is that?” says Alexa Chung, weaving her string-bean frame between the crammed and dog-eared rows of vinyl—soul and otherwise—at Kim’s Video & Music one recent Wednesday morning. Chung is on a hunt for Patsy Cline. “I just got a record player, which I used to have and then didn’t have anymore, so now I’ve got to build up my vinyl again,” she says. But it’s hard for the model, television host, and “Best Dressed” luminary not to get distracted by other albums of emotional significance along the way.
There’s The Strokes, for instance, which is the “oh my God, mind-blowing” band that a 17-year-old Chung went to see at the Reading Festival, where the previous year she had been approached by a modeling agent, who plucked her out of sleepy, tweedy Privett, a small village southwest of London, and launched her career. (“It was a big weekend.”) There’s Buddy Holly (“Obsessed!”), whose grave was the first place she visited on her first American road trip, at age 19: “It was pretty boring. I remember getting there and being like,Have I made a mistake?” There’s Pavement, the band she credits with helping her, at age 22, get her first job as a TV presenter for the British music show Popworld: “They were like, ‘Okay, finally, who would you not be able to interview because you love them so much?’ And I was like, ‘Stephen Malkmus.’ And they were like, ‘Yeaaaah, you’re gonna be fine.’ ” Unnoticed but no less important, there’s also the Arctic Monkeys, whose lead singer she once dated, and Marianne Faithfull, who gave her relationship advice during Paris Fashion Week: “I was D.J.ing this thing for Stella McCartney, and I was like, ‘Marianne, I’m having boy troubles.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, darling.’ ” And there’s the Strokes again, to whose guitarist, Albert Hammond Jr., she is not currently attached, despite rumors to the contrary: “If you’re photographed next to someone, then you must be shagging, I suppose.”
It’s an impressive musical résumé for someone who admits to not having huge musical talent herself (though, she qualifies, “I play guitar a bit. I’m trying to learn drums—I feel like I can play violin. I’ve never tried, but I just feel like I can”), but when Chung isn’t designing a fashion line for Madewell or writing for British Vogue or being a “beautiful and clever” muse to Karl Lagerfeld (his words), she’s usually in front of the camera for some music media outlet or other. Now, after a period of “floating around, ‘It’ girl–ing about,” she’s anchoring Fuse News, a TV show that launched in February on the eponymous channel. It’s the only news program devoted entirely to music information. “None of my American mates know that I’m really a TV host. They were like ‘What? I thought you just sort of went to fashion shows and stuff.’ And I was like ‘Well, yes. But other things as well.’ ”
In the U.S., Chung is certainly better known as a fashion icon and tastemaker, but she credits a miserable stretch modeling with her success as a television presenter. “I think it was good that I was having a bit of a shit time because it made me quite sarcastic. As a 22-year-old model type, they’re not really expecting you to be like, ‘Here’s the thing, Paul McCartney.’ ” On air, as in person, she’s self-deprecating (“I’m really interested in photography, like every other human being”) and slightly eccentric (“Someone sent me an e-mail with quirky in it the other day, and they spelled it corky and that really blew my mind; ‘She’s so corky’ ”), with a famously husky voice—her giggle is so low it hardly qualifies to be called one—and a conspiratorial tone, as if she’s constantly telling a joke that you’re in on. She has no stylist and makes it a point to wear outfits more than once. “That’s what you do in real life,” she says with a shrug.
Today, Chung is dressed both parts, half fashion darling, half girl with the band: bright-red lipstick and a Marni jacket over a “weird, vintage” Breton shirt and faded Lee’s overalls. “I found this guy”—she grabs at the shirt—“and was like, ‘What goes with that?’ A toddler’s overalls, of course! And I don’t have any socks because I haven’t done any laundry, so, oh well.”
We’ve made it to the back of Kim’s, the end of the alphabet. Chung hasn’t found any Patsy Cline, but there’s been plenty to tempt her. She thumbs the last few albums. “Neil Young was another one I discovered too late—On the Beach, blah, blah, blah. You know. XX, they’re great; Tom Waits, sure; The Who, interested; The Velvet Underground, wonderful; Tame Impala, my favorite band at the moment.” She leaves, however, with just a single purchase tucked under her lanky arm, Father John Misty’s Fear Fun. “This is the one I want,” she nods. “This is the one.”