Can Alexa Chung Become the Tory Burch of Britain?

By Vanessa Friedman

Alexa Chung image
The British It Girl Alexa Chung is starting her own fashion brand, which will have four collections a year. Acielle Tanbetova for The New York Times

When Alexa Chung, the 32-year-old English It Girl/television host/Madewell collaborator/British Vogue contributing editor known for combining loafers with tiny tea dresses, and high-waisted denim shorts with tailored jackets, announced this week that she was starting her own fashion brand, her myriad style followers greeted the news with paroxysms of joy. Comparisons to that other English personality who traded pop-culture stardom for industry credibility, Victoria Beckham, were suddenly rife.

It seemed as if Ms. Chung could be the next candidate for the celebrity-turned-designer crown.

But there’s another female entrepreneur whose career in style may be more apropos, and perhaps provide some clues as to what to expect when Ms. Chung’s line debuts in May 2017.

Is Alexa Chung going to be Britain’s answer to Tory Burch? The similarities are striking.

Like Ms. Burch, for example, who went to the University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Chung was not formally trained as a designer. Deciding whether to study art or English in college, she took a year off, started making commercials, and that was that.

Like Ms. Burch (who worked for Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang in advertising and public relations), she later spent a lot of time around the fashion world. She was a model and then a collaborator and muse for brands like Mulberry, which named a handbag after her; Marks & Spencer, for which she has curated two “archive” collections, wherein she chooses her favorite pieces from the brand’s past and updates them; and AG jeans, for which she is a face.

That gave her, she said by phone from Sweden on Monday, “a legitimacy in my own mind.”

“I always had it in my head that designing was something I was keen to do,” she said, “but I was dissuaded by modeling agents who saw the terrible kit I was cobbling together, and so it didn’t occur to me to pursue it as a serious option until I saw the brands I was working with taking me seriously.”

There’s more.

Like Ms. Burch, she saw a gap in the market for clothes like those she likes to wear at a contemporary price, and decided to fill it.

“It will probably be tomboyish but also very feminine, very wearable and of the moment and responsive to culture,” Ms. Chung said of her collection. “It’s not going to be wildly different from what you would expect, given how I dress. Just very well designed.”

Though she originally wanted to produce her line entirely in Britain, she has had to come to terms with the fact that to achieve the prices she desires (and as to what those are exactly, “I don’t specifically know”), she will probably have to go farther afield. Perhaps quite far afield, given the Brexit s effect on the British currency.

Like Ms. Burch, who introduced her line with small presentations, Ms. Chung is not planning a big fashion week blowout, but rather something more creative. Still, she will have four collections a year, and she said she “respects the structure of the industry as it stands.”

And like Ms. Burch, part of the appeal of Ms. Chung’s brand (which, like Ms. Burch’s, bears her name) will be her own persona.

That is, to be fair, somewhat different from Ms. Burch’s image of preppy superwoman/mother of three/stepmother of three/tennis star, kayaker and all-around weekend athlete, being more “incredibly hip girl about town with quirky personal style sometimes dating movie stars” (most recently Alexander Skarsgard). She has an even bigger Instagram following than Ms. Burch (2.3 million vs. 1.2 million).

Of course, there are a few other differences, notably the fact that unlike Ms. Burch, who began her company in conjunction with her husband at the time, Chris Burch, she has found backing in the form of an unnamed entity.

Alexa Chung

“It’s a British backer, who I met through friends, at a firm with experience investing in fashion as well as other areas,” she said. “But I have been explicitly told not to talk about it, so I can’t tell you their name.” (As to why she was told not to talk about it, she said she was not sure, but thought maybe the investor just wanted to remain in the background.) That has enabled her to hire a team of 10 people, including the designer Edwin Bodson, formerly the managing director of Haider Ackermann.

Also, unlike Ms. Burch, she plans to continue her multiple extracurricular activities.

“I have an energy problem,” she said. “I can’t sit still. I hope I am still able to host TV shows and collaborate with other brands while doing my own brand, because it’s what keeps me interested and gives me ideas. But it’s uncharted territory, so we will see.”

Whether she can achieve the success of Ms. Burch, whose brand was valued at $3.5 billion after 10 years, remains to be seen. But Ms. Chung is under no illusions as to what will make the difference.

“Product,” she said. “I have to make clothes people want to wear, independent of my image. But it means more when it bears your name. You can’t hide behind anything else. This is mine, including all the crap that comes with it. That’s the beauty of it. It can be anything I want it to be.”


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