Inside the chic, Dalston headquarters of Alexachung there is an atmosphere of almost eerie serenity – a calm before the storm. We meet in a room that’s decorated with the objets and artefacts that Chung has collected on her adventures around the globe. There are pretty Japanese lantern lights, playful Polaroids of nights out in Manhattan (where she was based for seven years), and copies of her friend Florence Welch‘s poetry book alongside the mock, wooden tomes that artist Illy Jankovich fashioned for the line’s recent Bloomsbury-inspired "Virginia" collection. Whether it’s the colour scheme of putty, hellebore pink and muted green on the walls, or the sleekness of the midcentury furniture, it’s a space that’s imbued with a homey elegance that perfectly chimes with Chung’s newest – and let’s face it rather grown-up – incarnation as creative director of her own eponymous, ready-to-wear line.
As she strides assuredly into the office, with a cheery "hi" to her young team, you’d never guess that the 34-year-old was about to embark on what is perhaps the most pivotal moment in the life of her fledgling brand. In less than 72 hours, Alexachung makes its catwalk debut at London Fashion Week with a show that’s a meditation on the nostalgic allure of airport travel. Despite her swanlike surface, the significance – and stress – of the occasion has not bypassed Chung who, she says, was up until the small hours anxiously firing off emails. You wouldn’t know. Her skin still luminous from a recent trip to Sicily, she is wearing a white tee bearing her embroidered initials with a pair of cropped jeans that are accessorised with silver eyeshadow and a ying-yang ring.
Until now her label, established in 2017, has followed the see-now-buy-now model. It’s significant that at a moment of flux for the industry, it’s making the gearshift to a traditional, on-schedule show, punctuated by regular drops of instantly accessible capsule product. Chung seems confident that this hybrid model is the solution to fashion’s scheduling conundrum.
"This show has always been really clear in my mind," she says of the style-led way it all came together. "I wanted it to be a fantasy airport where all these different characters are popping up." It’s obvious that Chung has had fun envisaging this nomadic procession of looks jettisoned from myriad locations. There are safari suits and Hawaii print pants and Ibiza-y diamanté dresses with puffer jackets. But it’s not all about the exotic or far-flung. There are also long, showerproof hooded cover-ups that cater to less than balmy climes, and one postcard print on a pair of silk pyjama pants that playfully depicts Clacton, Brighton and Skegness in illustrative seaside scenes. In short, these are looks rooted in reality.
Chung has taken her peripatetic theme and run with it. When she noticed a bunny print on a napkin on a recent trip to Tokyo, it became the basis for the branding of her make-believe travel agency, AC Travel. This rabbit motif recurs as a logo – and doodle-y print – on everything from lounge pants and hats to tees and tracksuits with a muted, vintage patina. While loosely sticking to a pared-back palette of icy blues, creams, whites and deep claret, she’s let rip on the prints and accessories. "Where we’ve used a print it needed to be really punchy," she says snapping her finger to underline her point. Yet this is a seriously wearable line-up of clothes. There are shirt dresses and suede pinafores, and a bias-cut, silk slip skirt that Chung sees as a "sleeper hit" – all things she wants in her own wardrobe. "I felt weird admitting to that before but I realised that’s sort of the point," she smiles trying on a cream skirted blazer that looks effortlessly good with her outfit.
Many of the standout accessories here started life as naive drawings in Chung’s sketch pad. She shows me pen-drawn sketches of the cork-soled, aquatic green sandals, delicately crocheted metallic slippers and silver Edwardian boots with diamanté laces that are lined up in readiness for the show at the side of the room. In a savvy move, you’ll be able to pre-order the jelly shoes (made in collaboration with Juju) and buy the capsule of delicious silk scarves immediately after the show.
In this age of athleisure wear it’s rare, Chung admits, that she sees someone who’s "really smashing it" sartorially at the airport. By contrast, these clothes quietly aspire to that late 1970s era when Mick Jagger or The Beatles would waft through departures in corduroy and velvet leaving the scent of patchouli in their wake. "I like that moment when it all got more soft," she says of her masculine mood board. "When everyone had done their psychedelic trips and had their freak outs, and everything started getting a little comfier."
The show’s title – "Arrivals and Departures" – points to the more philosophical undertones at play here, too. Having an official runway slot has been on Chung’s bucket list for the brand since the start. "The airport is often a place of vulnerability and anxiety," she says. "On a bigger, more metaphorical level, it’s about saying goodbye to your past and welcoming your future." Done right, there could be an upgrade in the offing.