“Oh, this is my favorite sign: used soul. How good is that?” says Alexa Chung, weaving her string-bean frame between the crammed and dog-eared rows of vinyl—soul and otherwise—at Kim’s Video & Music one recent Wednesday morning. Chung is on a hunt for Patsy Cline. “I just got a record player, which I used to have and then didn’t have anymore, so now I’ve got to build up my vinyl again,” she says. But it’s hard for the model, television host, and “Best Dressed” luminary not to get distracted by other albums of emotional significance along the way.
There’s the Strokes, for instance, which is the “oh my God, mind-blowing” band that a 17-year-old Chung went to see at the Reading Festival, where the previous year she had been approached by a modeling agent, who plucked her out of sleepy, tweedy Privett, a small village southwest of London, and launched her career. (“It was a big weekend.”) There’s Buddy Holly (“Obsessed!”), whose grave was the first place she visited on her first American road trip, at age 19: “It was pretty boring. I remember getting there and being like, Have I made a mistake?” There’s Pavement, the band she credits with helping her, at age 22, get her first job as a TV presenter for the British music show Popworld: “They were like, ‘Okay, finally, who would you not be able to interview because you love them so much?’ And I was like, ‘Stephen Malkmus.’ And they were like, ‘Yeaaaah, you’re gonna be fine.’ ” Unnoticed but no less important, there’s also the Arctic Monkeys, whose lead singer she once dated, and Marianne Faithfull, who gave her relationship advice during Paris Fashion Week: “I was D.J.ing this thing for Stella McCartney, and I was like, ‘Marianne, I’m having boy troubles.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, darling.’ ” And there’s the Strokes again, to whose guitarist, Albert Hammond Jr., she is not currently attached, despite rumors to the contrary: “If you’re photographed next to someone, then you must be shagging, I suppose.”
It’s an impressive musical résumé for someone who admits to not having huge musical talent herself (though, she qualifies, “I play guitar a bit. I’m trying to learn drums—I feel like I can play violin. I’ve never tried, but I just feel like I can”), but when Chung isn’t designing a fashion line for Madewell or writing for British Vogue or being a “beautiful and clever” muse to Karl Lagerfeld (his words), she’s usually in front of the camera for some music media outlet or other. Now, after a period of “floating around, ‘It’ girl–ing about,” she’s anchoring Fuse News, a TV show that launched in February on the eponymous channel. It’s the only news program devoted entirely to music information. “None of my American mates know that I’m really a TV host. They were like ‘What? I thought you just sort of went to fashion shows and stuff.’ And I was like ‘Well, yes. But other things as well.’ ”
In the U.S., Chung is certainly better known as a fashion icon and tastemaker, but she credits a miserable stretch modeling with her success as a television presenter. “I think it was good that I was having a bit of a shit time because it made me quite sarcastic. As a 22-year-old model type, they’re not really expecting you to be like, ‘Here’s the thing, Paul McCartney.’ ” On air, as in person, she’s self-deprecating (“I’m really interested in photography, like every other human being”) and slightly eccentric (“Someone sent me an e-mail with quirky in it the other day, and they spelled it corky and that really blew my mind; ‘She’s so corky’ ”), with a famously husky voice—her giggle is so low it hardly qualifies to be called one—and a conspiratorial tone, as if she’s constantly telling a joke that you’re in on. She has no stylist and makes it a point to wear outfits more than once. “That’s what you do in real life,” she says with a shrug.
Today, Chung is dressed both parts, half fashion darling, half girl with the band: bright-red lipstick and a Marni jacket over a “weird, vintage” Breton shirt and faded Lee’s overalls. “I found this guy”—she grabs at the shirt—“and was like, ‘What goes with that?’ A toddler’s overalls, of course! And I don’t have any socks because I haven’t done any laundry, so, oh well.”
We’ve made it to the back of Kim’s, the end of the alphabet. Chung hasn’t found any Patsy Cline, but there’s been plenty to tempt her. She thumbs the last few albums. “Neil Young was another one I discovered too late—On the Beach, blah, blah, blah. You know. XX, they’re great; Tom Waits, sure; the Who, interested; the Velvet Underground, wonderful; Tame Impala, my favorite band at the moment.” She leaves, however, with just a single purchase tucked under her lanky arm, Father John Misty’s Fear Fun. “This is the one I want,” she nods. “This is the one.”