“I grew up in a miniature village in the middle of the countryside in England, quite secluded from the outside world. I was always enamored by the fashion industry. I’d read Vogue magazines at the hairdresser’s while I was waiting for my mom to get her hair done and used to write essays on the fashion world with my friend Lucinda who lived up the road. This was before blogs or Internet or stuff like that. Even now, I consider myself mostly a journalist because I write interviews for a living. I did TV for a bit, and somewhere along the line I started writing a column for The Independent newspaper in England, and now I write features for British Vogue. It’s a bit braggy to say, but I’m over here [in New York] writing cover stories on couture, but literally no one knows that I do it!
But it was because of the TV shows that I first really got into the fashion thing. I went to a Chanel show because I had to interview Karl Lagerfeld and everyone thought I was there as one of the ‘It girls’ that sit front row, but I went backstage because I was working. I walked up to talk to Karl and his bodyguard told me that I could do the very last interview and that everyone else had to just record it. I was like, ‘Fuck!’ So I went to the front of the group and forgot all my questions. The only thing I could remember about the show was the music, so I asked why he played The Shirelles. He was really happy because someone was asking a new type of question for once, and my relationship with Chanel kind of grew out of that. Once they’d been like, ‘She’s all right guys,’ the fashion world was like, ‘Oh!? Who’s this guy?’ and I started doing more and more of that.
So, suddenly people became interested in what I was wearing. As a [TV] presenter, you’re given a budget each season to buy a wardrobe that you’d choose from for each show. It wasn’t that much money, so I’d buy two nice pairs of shoes and one really lovely blouse, and the rest I’d fill in with H&M, Topshop, and Zara. Because of that, people at home would be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got that top, but it’s interesting that she’s putting it with those boots,’ etcetera. It was once people began taking my picture every time I left the house—because it’s an easy fashion shot—that I started getting a bit weirder about going out without any makeup on, and I think that’s when I started wearing foundation every day.
I do a concoction of stuff. Right now, I mix YSL Le Teint Touché Éclat Illuminating Foundation and a bit of the Laura Mercier Illuminating Tinted Moisturizer together with my fingers and just rub it onto my face. And I use this Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage for under my eyes—you have to cover that shit. To finish, I’ll pat Chanel Sublimage Cream on my cheeks for a bit of a glow.
When I’m wearing makeup, I choose between doing my eyes or mouth because I don’t want to look like a beauty pageant child. I’ve got quite a strong face—if it’s got too much on, I just look like a man in drag. Lips are usually easiest to do. I’m so pleased that they started selling this again—Rio Rio by Topshop. I told Liv Tyler about that. Chanel Rouge Allure Incandescente 97 is a good red, as well. If I’m doing eyes, then I use a lighter lip, and for that I’m obsessed with all the YSL peachy, salmon-y colors. I love the Rouge Volupte in Rose Infinite 7. Their nudes are really good.
Because I have the luxury of having my makeup done frequently, I don’t have a huge collection of products. But I am an avid wearer of eyeliner—I would say I’m wearing it 90 percent of the time. Someone at a dinner recently asked me if it was tattooed on because they’ve never seen me without it, which I actually think would be wonderful...though I’ve gotten really good at doing it. I’ve done mine for so many years that I can just draw it on really quickly. It's funny, the makeup brand Eyeko approached me to collaborate, and we had a meeting and talked ideas and they asked if I wanted to help develop some products. It really made sense. So, it started with just the Skinny Liquid Eyeliner, which is a pen. I really love it—before I was using a brush and pot, but it’s so much to take with you, and you’re always getting your bag dirty with the brush, and you have to clean it every time; it’s a nightmare. The pens are much better. My technique is to start with the little flicks on the outside first, and then fill it in. Sometimes, I’ll do just a tiny line for a brunch, but if I’m going out for the night, then I’ll experiment with thicker lines. If you mess it up, then you just have to go with the flow and it becomes a full look. Anyway, then we did the Eye Do Mascara, and we’re now working on the Me and My Shadow stick, which is a thicker version of a kohl pencil and the idea is that you can just kind of smudge it on. It has a brush on the other end to help. It’s so easy, and really the best I've used.
The culture in England is such that it’s really not cool to look like you’ve tried so hard. If someone’s gone to the spa to get their nails done, you’re like, ‘Oh rate yourself!’ which is saying, like, ‘Ooh you’re fancy!’ It’s seen as very self-indulgent. Though, in America, if you’re pampering yourself and getting the blowout and the rest of it, you’re seen as doing really well and it’s celebrated. In England, it’s the opposite—it’s very embarrassing to seem like you're lording it up over people. It’s just not about being ‘done.’ We’re into being clean, just not looking like you’ve made too much of an effort.
It’s like with my hair: I wash it every day because I have to—it gets so greasy. But then I just literally tuck it behind my ears and wait for it to dry. I’ve gotten disparaging comments about this before because people get annoyed about it. They’re like, ‘I’m so sick of Alexa pretending she doesn’t do anything.’ No, I really don’t. I’m mixed race—I’ve got half Chinese hair, half Caucasian hair—so it's very fine and naturally bends as it dries. I have a pathological fear of using products in my hair because, again, it’s so greasy. I do like the Wella Ocean Spritz Beach Texture Hairspray, and I’ll use the L’Oréal Professionnel True Grip powder in the back at the crown to give it some volume. But it’s like cement, so you have to use it so sparingly. You don’t just pour it straight onto the top; I lift up pieces up and dust it in beneath.
I do have to switch up shampoos quite regularly because otherwise my hair will get used to it and I'll get build-up, or it starts going really greasy. I just found a Klorane Shampoo with Quinine and B Vitamins, which leaves you with a nice dry texture. L’Oréal Professionnel INOAColor Care is good, too. And then I use conditioner just on the ends; it helps keep my fringe from getting too greasy. For conditioner, I like Pureology Pure Volume.
I get the impulse to cut my hair or change my look every day. I used to have a bob, and then one day I just realized like, 'OK, the jig is up—boys just like long hair.' I hate to generalize, but they do! So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just look nice for a second?’ and I grew it out. I’d be imagining what it’d be like to flick my hair, or what it would be like when I could finally tie it up, and then as soon as it hit the optimal length, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want a bob again ‘cause it’s cool.’ I think it’s boring to stay in the same lane too long. My plan is to have a bob when I’m older anyway; my mom always had one her whole life and I think it’s more flattering than long hair when you’re older.
My hairdresser, George Northwood, and I came up with the idea of 'Future Cuts' because I’m so weird about who cuts my hair. He literally might be the reason people like my hair, because he’s so clever with it. But I travel so much and have to be away from him, so we’ll have to plan in advance what we want to do. For example, the plan was to grow out my fringe and then cut it short, so during that process he’s done less layering so it grows nicely. 'Future Cuts' are about planning ahead instead of being reactive, so it grows into the thing you want it to be.
I do like traveling, though, because I like to steal the tiny bottles of whatever’s up at the hotels. Aesop is the best score. Also I love how the products smell at Hôtel Costes in Paris, so I’ll stock up when I go. I'll keep stealing the products day after day, so they have to keep refilling, and that way I can get as much as possible. Sometimes they don’t refill it—they know the game. Now they’re like, ‘Oh, Ms. Chung is in 205. Don’t restock, she’s pilfering the products.’ I think of it as like a hotel heist, like I’m a beauty heist burglar. One time, at the Ritz Paris I took their entire bath set. I was like, ‘I’ll take a bathrobe, a bath mat, some of these pink towels—all of it.’
I love taking baths. When I was younger, I went out with a much older man and he had all of these beauty products and bath stuff and it was the first time I’d been exposed to these lovely things. Aesop Geranium is my favorite body wash—isn’t it absurd that something like a fancy body wash can make you think you’re an adult? Also for body, I use Kiehl’s Creme de Corps, or I’ll mix Rodin oil with some Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream, but it’s got such a pungent fragrance to it that it can be a little too much. I definitely use deodorant every day—the Pomegranate Crystal Essence Natural Protection Mineral Deodorant. I think it works, but I’m also not very sweaty. You have to use it for about a week and then it starts working. That’s the only one I can use because I don’t want armpit cancer. Also I just started trying out the Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream on my body and it’s working really well. It stinks, too—it smells like Tiger Balm, which is not great, but it does actually keep you hydrated for the whole day. They said they use it in Japan for, like, mountain climbing when you’re going to be freezing and dry.
My skin is drier than the Sahara desert—it’s like sandpaper and the outside of a cactus had sex and made my skin. So, whereas some people are like, ‘I hate oily things because I get breakouts!’ I’m like, ‘No, give me a vat of oil that I can dunk my head into, please.’ We had this disaster recently—I say ‘we’ because Tamah is my makeup artist and pal, and we just found out that our favorite moisturizer, Moisturel Therapeutic Cream, which was basically like Cetaphil cream but thicker, has been discontinued. Why? We just don’t know. So I’m on the hunt for the best moisturizer. Currently I use a mixture of stuff. I’m trying out Cetaphil mixed with Decleor oil, but I’ll do anything that I think might save me. Yesterday I just put Papaw all over my face on a plane because it got pretty bad. We are having a crisis, a full-on crisis. And it’s the same thing for the body—problematic in the moisture department, all year round. I did get prescribed fish oil, I should do that again. Solros-Tval Swedish Dream Sunflower Facial Soap is good—I use it as my face wash. I love it mostly because of the packaging; I give it to people for Christmas in a stocking. Plus, it doesn’t dry out my skin too much, and it says it’s made of egg whites, and it’s five bucks. Though I’m not very good about washing my face; I don’t really do it before bed.
For fragrance, I’m trying out Lys 41 Perfume Oil from Le Labo; it’s like a nicer way to wear perfume. You just drop it on and rub it in; I mix it with my moisturizers. I always write ‘Magic Potion’ on my perfume bottles so when I use them it feels magical—I make spells in the morning when I put them on. I’m not really into astrology, though. I’m a bit sick of people talking about astrology in New York. I’ll say something and someone will go, ‘That’s because you’re Scorpio,’ and I’m like, ‘Or it’s because I’m an individual who’s having a unique circumstance and reacting to it in a normal way?' I do like reading my star signs, but I don’t take it too seriously.
The way I look isn’t about feeling sexy for me; I like to feel hilarious and quick-witted. A guy said to me the other day, ‘Oh, you look really pretty!’ and I was like, ‘Ugh.’ I can’t handle that. I’d rather hear, ‘Oh, you sound clever today!’ So now he’s like ‘You’re really clever, Alexa,’ but he doesn’t mean it. I do work out to kind of maintain things—I’m obsessed with Ballet Beautiful; it’s good. I have a one-on-one situation, I try to go three times a week, but not in pointe shoes. It’s all normal exercises, they just make you think its ballet because you have to move your arm in a certain way. But I only just got into that. Before that, when I was modeling, I used to do yoga and swimming and jogging and then I stopped and I realized that my body looked exactly the same. Then I turned 30 and I thought I should probably start doing something. I chose ballet for the outfits. I don’t think I look that different, but I feel better. I just feel like if I’m naked walking around in front of a boy I’m less embarrassed about that. I feel tighter, you know? Like you’re not shuffling backwards out of the room when you exit.”
—as told to ITG
Alexa Chung photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on March 17, 2014.