“In real life, I rarely think about clothes,” so said Alexa Chung in a Harper’s Bazaar interview last year. With the just-launched M&S collaboration, it would seem that her brain cells are doing some work, even if it’s not heavy lifting. Britain’s perpetual It girl—after Kate Moss—has done what It girls do, lend her aesthetic sense to fashion labels in need of, to quote Carmel Snow, a dash of daring.
Marks and Spencer is not a Savile Row outfitter despite its Mayfair-sounding name. Neither is it a cool high-street label, always at the cusp of something revolutionary. In Singapore, and quite possibly the UK, M&S (as it is usually called) is very much associated with one’s mother, even grandmother, or, if you’re a foodie, the All-Butter Sultana Cookies. Its presence in our city dates back to the Fifties. For those old enough (ageing population that we now are), M&S was first St Michael, appearing in 1958 in John Little, the oldest department store here, established in 1842. The name change was effected only in 1994, but it has never really discarded the frump that St Michael has made of itself.
Alexa Chung poses with models at a launch party hosted by Marks and Spencer in London
Alexa Chung’s present involvement seems to say that the dowdiness that many folks can’t (no longer?) find beautiful is being given a new lease of life. Unlike the typical fashion collaboration involving fashionable celebrities, Ms Chung did not have M&S access her wardrobe for inspiration. The reverse became the work flow and she, instead, visited the M&S archives. M&S used Ms Chung’s eye and tapped her flair for making things of the past sit well in the present. These archival pieces have morphed into fashion-correct clothes for a generation of women—Alexa Chung included—rediscovering stuff of lost eras to take the place of what they cannot conceive for the future.
To be noted, what Ms Chung has done for M&S isn’t as lack of craft as what Kate Moss co-produced with Topshop. The proportions, for example, have clearly been reworked for the contemporary consumer. We were quite taken by the double-breasted Ada blazer, for example. The shoulders are now cut slanted, rather than ’80s-straight, and hang a little lower; the effect is a slouch that is rather becoming over a wisp of a dress—the way Ms Chung wears hers. The obligatory tennis sneakers are tweaked with a sense of humour, changing Adidas’s perforated lines into ‘yes’ on one side and ‘no’ on the other. This IT girl clearly isn’t averse to a little fun and wit in her clothes.
Clockwise from top left: Ada double-breasted blazer, S$169.90; Ada wide-legged trousers, S$119.90; Harry pie-crust top, S$119.90; Eliza high-neck dress, S$1549.90; Lydia, A-line gingham skirt, S$89.90; and Helen ‘Yes/No’ trainer; $129.90. Illustration: Just So
And it is this irreverence doused with thought that truly sets her contribution apart. She may, as she said, “rarely think about clothes”, but it’s the consideration in how she puts clothes together that has made her very much a fashion star. Nothing on her is not deliberate (no woman wears overalls without first thinking how she will turn out!), yet she’s able to come across as one with better things to ponder than fashion. That in itself is more a womanly attitude than a girly one, which perhaps explains her appeal among those in their late twenties and early thirties than in their teenage years.
Alexa Chung’s style, therefore, deserves more study than, say, Kate Moss’s since one appears to dress for an exigent purpose (such as a profession) while the other seems to be attired just for hanging out. Ms Moss frequently looks like she walks into an older cousin’s wardrobe and tumbled out while Ms Chung seems to have visited a store and carefully picked her buys. If one is Gucci, then the other is rather possibly Prada! M&S is not off the mark, therefore, to be associated with the TV presenter in the hope that their clothes will be cast in new light. Problem is, any of these pieces won’t make you look as good as Alexa Chung. You have to be Alexa Chung to look this fine.
Archive by Alexa is available at M&S, Wheelock Place, and online at http://www.marksandspencer.com. Photos: Marks and Spencer