It’s always a curiosity meeting celebrities, especially ones you’ve already formed opinions of well before you’ve ever actually ever seen them in person or talked to them. I get a huge kick out of times when I expect someone to be one way, and they turn out to be completely another. Meeting stylesetter Alexa Chung at Madewell on Thursday night was sort of in that “didn’t expect that” category.
In town for a personal appearance, on a national tour, to fete the launch of her sophomore capsule collection for the prep-meets-indie-hipster retailer, the 27-year-old model/host/designer/it girl surprised me with her quirky personality (at one point she was doing the Charleston in between signing autographs) and her rather relaxed attitude (she’s a New York transplant but didn’t seem the least bit rushed even as crowds were hovering during our couch interview).
It turned out to be a fruitful evening: I managed to snag one of her silk polka dot ’70s-inspired blouses before my size got picked over by the masses. And I squeezed in a few fun questions about Chung’s style inspirations, her latest designs for Madewell, and her cameo at New York Fashion Week.
I’m still anxiously waiting on the brand’s online restock of the coveted leopard calf booties, which she was sporting that night, but until now they’re sold out pretty much everywhere and can only be found at twice the retail price on, where else but…eBay!
Here’s a snippet of my Q&A with Alexa. The rest you’ll find on sfgate this Sunday.
Q: When’s the last time you were in SF?
A: I’ve never been here. Hey, I’m English! And unfortunately I leave at 4 am tomorrow morning.
Q: How do you think this collection has evolved from the first one you did for Madewell last fall?
A: There are more items in it. From the experience of designing the first one, it was just an easier process the second time around. I knew the design team so well. It seemed like I could refer to things. I knew the names of things like a placket and fagoting. It was easier when I knew how to sketch things.
It’s also a little bit more mature. Last time it was more playful ’60s dresses with Peter Pan collars. This time I looked at the Madewell collection and saw what they were doing for themselves. It was business meets ’70s, with a relaxed vibe and things you might wear to work. So some of the silk striped shirts is kind of a Wall Street thing. And then things that are a bit more practical.
Q: Sounds like you had a big hand in designing the collection?
A: I designed the collection. I draw a lot. The image I drew on the “I’m serious” t-shirt was something I sketched. Obviously I don’t pattern cut. Kim the head designer helped me with that. But all the ideas were my own.
Q: Speaking of ideas, where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: I don’t know. There are just things that I like. Like the palm tree pajamas, which showed up in a dream. I like to zone out and daydream and imagine things that I’d like to exist. …Other things are designed for women that I find brilliant, like Jean Shrimpton in the ’60s. I made that plaid Macintosh coat with the round collar because I imagined she might wear it back in the day. So yah, it’s quite sporadic. It’s a collage of ideas as opposed to one cohesive thing. When you analyze it, there’s no set era. It’s just “things I like to wear, by Alexa Chung.”
Q: Do you think you’ll create your own line one day?
A: I’d love to! Like I said, the designs are my own. But I relied very much on the team at Madewell to be able to realize them. So I’m not yet adept enough at design to totally do my own thing. I think this has been a wonderful learning experience.
Q: What was your favorite show at New York Fashion Week?
A: Unfortunately I only got out to one show because I was filming constantly that whole week. I got to see Proenza and it was brilliant. It was stunning. I really love those boys. They’re really really clever.
Q: What’s on your fall fashion wish list?
A: A Philosophy mohair, ’50s swing coat, which is so beautiful. Stella McCartney has a polka dot skirt that’s really really wonderful too.
Q: What are you wearing right now?
A: Everything is from the collection. My friend Harley had a blouse. So I call this the Harley dress. The Bin Man coat. And the mohair boots. I’m most proud of these. They are exactly the way my drawing looked and I sort of guestimated the heel height that would be perfect for walking. They also come in black calf and sliver, which were also my favorite, but I didn’t get them and now they’ve already sold out!