On any given day, the slot-machine speed of Tumblr calls up dozens of new images of Alexa Chung across numerous blogs devoted solely to her. There’s fuckyeahalexachung, effyeahalexachung, dresslikealexachungday, and these are just the tip of the iceberg of adoring online coverage of the British TV presenter, model, designer, DJ and magazine columnist.
The ease of use of Tumblr – seconds to start a blog, seconds more to publish a post – explains why her fans’ output is so large. They’re looking at these photos anyway, so what’s ten more seconds to make a blog out of all of it? In the process, the bloggers achieve savior status among thousands of other Chung fans, some of whom, naturally, have Chung-themed tumblrs themselves.
Who knows how many of these blogs exist – hundreds? 50? One thing is clear: the fans are in love. They probably wouldn’t mind if someone came along, snapped their fingers and transformed them into Alexa Chung forever, and some have declared as much.
The attention may seem a little surprising, if not downright weird. “What color are Alexa’s eyes?” one person asks a blogger using Tumblr’s “ask” feature. “Do you know what her blood type is?” inquires another. Recently, someone asked if a blogger had a particular picture of Chung in which she is surrounded by a “halo of light.” The picture was promptly posted. Yet another asked if the blogger had any desktop wallpaper-sized images. One would expect this kind of devotion from a Robert Pattinson fan, maybe. But Alexa Chung?
Around the time she began dating Alex Turner, the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, three years ago, Chung – a model-turned-TV presenter – was elevated to a plane of reality in which everything became ripe for exposure, ogling, commentary. In the process, this half-Chinese, half-English 26-year-old was sporting a “school girl meets grandma” style (her term) that caught the attention of the fashion industry and laypeople alike.
A style star was born.
Chung stands at 5’8” with sea-foam green eyes, curvy hips, skinny gams and a shoulder-length two-toned bob that is refreshing to see in a fashion world full of long, mostly blonde, locks. Her fashion choices hold appeal for the young prep, hipster and everyone in between.
Her power in the fashion industry has grown exponentially in the past couple of years, and the obsessive cataloguing of her looks on Tumblr is merely in service of that: you never know what Chung’s going to wear next or what trend it will spark. When she carried a vintage Mulberry bag to a fashion show, it prompted the UK designer to revive the style in a bag called “the Alexa.”
The great thing about effortless style – a tiresome adjective, but appropriate here – is that it’s accessible. Chung has the measurements of a model, but she’s not up in the stratosphere, towering over the men. Like any good ad campaign, there still needs to be something aspirational in order for someone to hold this much influence, and in Chung’s case, it’s that absolutely no one else looks like her.
Lately, her growing influence has taken her back into the modeling world, where she does “special bookings”: the odd European editorial; ad campaigns for Pepe Jeans, Lacoste, DKNY. She can also be found DJing fashion industry parties, writing columns in fashion magazines and designing her own line for Madewell – J. Crew’s offshoot for teens and young women.
An avid vintage collector and fan of designers like Phillip Lim, Chanel, Comme des Garçons and Miu Miu, Chung has become the purveyor of an easy but often unobvious style which is essentially a blend of runway trends and quirky personalization: vintage t-shirts with leather pants; floral dresses with oversized cardigans; a long-sleeve, floor-length beaded Marc Jacobs dress that looks like a 1920s wedding gown. Her style isn’t out there, like, say, fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson’s, but Chung’s choices are refreshing, and the amount of outfits she can create from an almost colorless palette of navy blue, gray, black and white alone is impressive.
In 2009, Chung moved to New York to try her hand at US television. But instead of going for the cheeky – and mostly short-lived – types of shows she did back in England, she entered the fraught world of the talk show, where even the most successful hosts have a steep climb to the top. To cap it all off, Chung’s show was on MTV. The gig was so improbable that it was pegged by much of the media as a crazy dream-come-true for the reality-obsessed former music network. “Can Alexa Chung Save MTV?” read a Slate profile published at the time.
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“If you’re a girl [on TV in the US] and you’re my age, you’re on a shiny night-time show and you’ve got your boobs hoiked up and you’re not really giving opinions,” Chung said in a Radio Times interview.
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US fans who knew of Chung from the Internet and magazines were certainly going to tune in to find out. But as it turned out, “Teen Mom” saved MTV, and “It’s On With Alexa Chung” was cancelled after two short seasons.
The media speculated that the show’s half-hour, formerly occupied by “TRL,” was too early for most teenagers. But Chung’s analysis is probably more accurate: her humor was all wrong for the U.S. audience and the format of the show stank. The decision to call cut was apparently mutual, which is totally believable if you watch Chung on the show. In the Slate piece, Troy Patterson wrote that Chung “offers the delicate sultriness of Kari Wuhrer and the alert curiosity of Tabitha Soren, the sass of Kennedy and the stems of ‘Downtown’ Julie Brown.”
The studio audience of “It’s On With Alexa Chung” would have one thing to say to that: “Who?”
On air, she cultivates a sometimes awkward, often dark brand of humor that has probably never had a successful moment on MTV in the network’s history. After the show ended, she told the UK’s Radio Times: “Sometimes I’d be in the middle of interviewing – insert starlet’s name here – and I’d aim to have a joke and be irreverent, and then it would transpire that they weren’t getting it and I had to switch back and do a straight interview.” There were some exceedingly dry moments on the show, reminiscent of season two of the UK version of “The Office.” And largely the jokes were lost not only on the guests but on the young, mostly female members of the studio audience.
In one episode, Chung asks her guest, Adrien Grenier, what the “biggest perk” of being on “Entourage” is. He says, “To be able to have so much fun – like yourself, doing what you love.” Chung responds, “This isn’t fun, it’s rubbish!,” then corrects herself: “It’s not, it’s hilarious fun! And I’ve got all my friends here”––she gestures to the audience, then corrects herself again: “They’re not my friends. I pay them to be here, and it’s all weird.” Grenier, looking down at his lap, lets out successively quieter “ha-ha”s.
“If you’re a girl [on TV in the US] and you’re my age, you’re on a shiny night-time show and you’ve got your boobs hoiked up and you’re not really giving opinions,” Chung said in the Radio Times interview. “You’re merely a conduit.”
Chung’s online fans are in roughly the same demographic as the MTV viewers, but they’re not a vast enough swath to buoy an entire MTV show. On an online forum, one fan recently admitted that Chung “may not have been the best host,” but that it was “fun” tuning into the show every day to see what she was wearing. Indeed, there were a few painful moments on the show. And Chung – wearing, say, Marni platforms with brown ankle socks – often exuded disdain or at least boredom with the stiff formula and even stiffer audience, who looked like a bunch of lost sheep – During Lady Gaga’s surreal appearance, the pop star failed to look at Chung even once. Chung sat gamely by, visibly amused by the spectacle.
The show’s cancellation, even if it was a mutual decision, was surely a big bruise to Chung’s ego, and may have set off a mini existential crisis common to mid-20s folk, famous or not. Perhaps America, or some strange segment of it, wasn’t the place for her. But Chung was too sophisticated for the MTV audience, and wasn’t afraid to gesture to that effect on the air. Who can blame her?
With design gigs, ad campaigns, a flattering article about her “second act” in this month’s US Vogue and free designer items up the wazoo, it appears America is not being too cruel to Chung after all. She’s also in the midst of presenting another UK show.
One drawback is that she can’t escape the spotlight. (She recently tweeted: “I refuse to put makeup on for the shithead pap lurking outside. This is a boring new element to consider every day.”) But that’s the price you pay for living in a pleasant, respected limbo somewhere between a photo shoot, a DJ booth and a Williamsburg apartment, listening to old records with Alex Turner.