Interview: Alexa Chung on Collaborating with Barbour

An exploration of the heritage brand's archive lead to an exciting new outerwear and accessories collection

Alexa Chung has long occupied a uniquely influential position in the fashion industry. With a career that began in modeling, Chung segued into television, brand partnerships, collaborations and ultimately the launch of her own label. Those partnerships and collaborations in particular (with the likes of Madewell, AG Jeans and Superga) delivered detailed, diverse perspectives on the industry’s inner-workings. It’s these learnings, woven with her signature sense of style, that she channels into her latest endeavor, The Barbour by ALEXACHUNG collection. Comprised of seven pieces of outerwear, three tote bags and a hat, the collaboration taps into the illustrious history of the English heritage brand Barbour.

Chung explored their archive, pulling patterns and silhouettes and referencing pieces dating all the way back to 1910, but in the process she also explored her personal history with the brand. As the first collection’s available now and a second drop is slated for August, Chung’s professional journey with Barbour has just begun, but she’s been wearing it for as long as she can remember.

“What draws me to a heritage brand—and what makes it an authentic love affair—is my appreciation for classic design,” she shares with us. “When it comes to collaborating, the first thing I do is go through an archive and try to identify the DNA of the brand. It’s less about modifying and more about throwing a mirror up to show what makes them great and figuring out how that might be appropriate for a younger audience.” She adds that this wasn’t a struggle with Barbour.

“They didn’t need my help. This is one of the first collaborations I approached personally,” she continues. “I felt that with my brand, we wanted to make appropriate outerwear that actually functioned and had a practical purpose. In my mind, especially for festival season, which is upon us, Barbour has been my go-to product—their waxed jacket in particular.”

Her trip to the archive and the ensuing process functioned two-fold. “We went to South Shields, which is where the factory and the design team are based. We would either look at reference images, so some of the collection was inspired by illustrations from yonder, or other [whole] pieces were identified and pulled out.” Chung’s smock, for example, nods to one from 1973. Much of her vision involved pairing what she knew she wanted—a bucket hat and the smock, for example—with inspiring archival components. Tweaks were then made to do everything from incorporate Brit Pop allusions and enhance fashionable city capabilities.

Chung chronicles her inspiration in a very specific manner. “I will think about an idea,” she says, “and driven by a desire for an education in a certain area, I’ll do image research around it and then put a mood board together.” She presents this to her design team and then everyone digs in. “That’s the bit I find most thrilling: you can deep-dive into a corner of inspiration that you made up. It’s everything from politics to history, music and movies. It’s an excuse to learn more,” she says.

Chung launched her eponymous brand in 2017. It marked a transition most struggle to make: that of “It girl” and “multi-hyphenate” to fashion designer and business owner. It took a long time to break free. “It came down to recognizing that I wanted to have autonomy and own my name,” she says. “I was just always kind of consumed by the outside world. It’s part of the reason I was in New York for so long.” She was seeking distance to view her success in London from the outside. “I realized I was in a very lucky position. I think making moves like this to regain control was how I came up with the brand—and then housing all the stuff that I was already doing under one roof.”

Through it all, with a career starting in the ’90s, Chung’s worked through many transformations in the fashion industry. “I think digital photography was the first big change I witnessed. I was modeling at a time when you’d stand and wait for a polaroid to dry. The advent of digital photos and video squeezed everyone so that they’d have to do a thousand more things in one day—before that, there was just more time. Then social media radically changed the face of fashion. We are still seeing the echo of that.”

Two other important developments have occurred, she notes. “In the wake of #MeToo, everyone’s starting to consider how they behave on set,” she adds, and she’s also seen advancement regarding inclusivity and diversity. “When I was modeling, I never put Chung on my modeling card because I didn’t want to dissuade a client. I thought that I needed to remain racially ambiguous. Whereas now, I’m so pleased to see all people claim their heritage.”

The Barbour by ALEXACHUNG collection is available now.

Images courtesy of Barbour