Alexa Chung: 40% sell-through in three weeks as stockists double
Under a disco ball, a teenage couple are awkwardly slow-dancing on a confetti-strewn ballroom floor, the prom king in a navy tux and flares, the queen in a silvery tulip cocktail dress. On the bleachers, two gangly velvet-clad girls in matching Alice bands and pearl chokers sway in time to Debbie Harry’s soft crooning. But in spite of all appearances, it’s not 1981. It’s 2017, and this is Alexa Chung’s Paris Fashion Week #PromGoneWrong.
The presentation is the latest event to promote the second collection for Chung’s label, the first of which launched back in May. Naturally, the new designer herself is hosting, and this evening Chung is dressed with understated glamour in a black cocktail dress (her own brand, of course), paired with on-trend patent strap stilettos. She looks fresh-faced and relaxed, perhaps because the collection has already been selling for three weeks, and selling well, at that. “In terms of sales [the first collection] went well, and the second one which we’re celebrating tonight is doing really, really well. So that’s fantastic,” she says.
The creation of her own women’s ready-to-wear label is just the latest feather in the cap for Chung, whose enviable career has spanned top-tier modelling, TV presenting and journalism, as well as all-round fashion influencer. And the fledgling fashion designer seems to be settling into her newest role with gusto. “I was hankering after [self-expression] for a long time, and this has given me complete creative freedom,” she says. “I’m very much a creative director, so I’m across every visual and aesthetic to do with this company.”
As masterfully as she might have navigated her way through previous fashion projects, taking on another venture hasn’t necessarily been a bed of roses. “It’s daunting to be across all areas of the creative side of this,” Chung says of her new role. It’s been a learning curve, and she's candid about her lack of formal training. “I was talking to my mother today and she said to me, 'Alexa, be careful when you say you’re a designer, because people that have studied at Saint Martin’s might get offended',” she relates, laughing. "I set the brief, and I’m very, very involved in the fittings and everything, but – can I sew, can I make a pattern? No.”
For all her well-merited authority on personal style, Chung is unexpectedly humble about the role she plays in her own design process. “The ideas are mine and the process is something I babysit from beginning to end and I’m incredibly involved, but I don’t want to disrespect my team and say that it’s just me doing it, because it takes a village to make this happen.” A village of 17, to be precise, in London’s East End, the technical counterpart to Chung’s creative vision. It’s mostly going well, according to Chung, but in her introspective way, she hums and haws about her own capabilities. “I’m very happy with what we’ve created. I think it’s about finding the balance of being able to communicate in a professional way: I’m so keen for people to like me or find me funny that sometimes I’m not very good at giving constructive criticism,” she says dubiously. “It comes out really weirdly, so I need to work on how I communicate.”
An adult lifetime in the public eye hasn’t stripped the style maven of an air of vulnerability, which on top of her ‘quirky’ personality and offbeat sense of humour, gives her a very genuine likeability. It’s no doubt a combination that has helped sustain Chung’s image of accessible style: A generation of women clamouring to imitate the indie, French boho-chic-meets-pageboy style that earned her the enduring appellation of ‘It-girl’ has seen the most unlikely of garments explode in popularity throughout her career (think the Barbour jacket and ‘Binman trend’ courtesy of her collaboration with Madewell). Wasn’t it a given that the It-girl’s own line would be snapped up?
Alexachung managing director Edwin Bodson, hovering amiably at Chung’s elbow throughout the interview, doesn’t seem to think so. “It’s not a celebrity brand,” he’s keen to explain. “And we don’t rely on her fanbase because it would be stupid to do that.” In fact, he says, “our dream is that people will see the clothes and without knowing that it’s Alexa Chung, they love it and want to buy it. Our staff were telling us, 'sometimes people don’t know the name, but they love the clothes'.”
It’s an approach reflected in the label’s emphasis on quality fabrics and sustainable manufacturing. And they really do need people to love it - while a white T-shirt might set you back €85, the velvet tuxedo jacket modelled by the presentation’s prom king is a cool €660. But Chung is making clothes that she "genuinely thinks are great. Even if a jacket is £700,” Bodson says assuredly, adding “people will buy what is great. [The label] has her name, but it would be the same if it didn’t.”
The duo’s optimism and exuberant confidence in their vision is indeed paying off. The second collection has had 40% sell-through in its biggest retailers in three weeks, says Bodson, and the label has nearly doubled its number of points of sale worldwide from 55 in May to just over 100 currently. Bodson expects the number to increase to 110-120 by the end of this week. By next March, another 20 will be established in Japan alone.
Bolstering this precipitous international expansion plan are the regional events that the label is holding throughout its markets, such as tonight’s ‘prom'. The next markets coming into focus will be Benelux, Italy, Taiwan and the Netherlands, where the label held its Lonely Hearts Club Bingo last month at luxury department store, de Bijenkorf. These requisitely quirky soirées are organised with the aim of further leveraging sales, "going deeper into each market after delivery," Bodson says. As for Paris, the fashion week is key for international visibility. The next event will be in London, and after that Japan, where the Fall collection will be presented.
Meanwhile, by Bodson’s judgement, an efficient supply chain and distribution calendar are working in their favour: "Tom Ford stopped see-now-buy-now because deliveries would be held from early August until the show date in September, missing a considerable amount of sales. We deliver, encourage our points of sale to start selling - supported by press and editorials - followed by an event, whether a presentation, show or other in September."
“Back to the marketing,” he continues, “The conception that you have to do a show, take orders and deliver - you don’t need to. You can do what you want. We prefer to have fun.”
Chung seems to agree. What’s next for the label? “We’re just going to have a laugh. And make cool shit,” she grins. “That’s the manifesto. Have a laugh, make cool shit.”
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