Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Last-Year Reads: IT by Alexa Chung

Alexa Chung's IT is a change from the usual books I like to write about. For a start, there's nothing "Last Year" about it - it's so unbelievably now, it's hard to believe the ink has even had chance to dry properly. But I think it's still worth mentioning as it's the kind of book you'll want to press into the hands of your grandkids and say, "this is what it was like to be stylish in 2013". They will look curiously at you, and think you are a little mad.

Alexa is ridiculously of the moment. And, of course, she isn't too. While a lot of young fashion is geared towards flashing flash, Chung's style isn't really about that. No surprise she writes that she ditched her first style icons, The Spice Girls, quite early on. When talking about Annie Hall, she says, "It was the first time I recognised that sexuality didn't have to be expressed through high skirts and crop tops."

Her look has been undeniably influential on British fashion. Her list of "essential" wardrobe items - denim hot pants, navy blue jumper, a Burberry trench coat, a tote bag, ankle boots, Wayfarer sunglasses, ballet flats, dungarees and a white shirt - contains quite a few items that capture early twenty-first century dressing for a lot of young women. She also tackles several of the important issues of today: karaoke, twitter and self-portraits. While it's easy to scoff, I know I've had exactly those conversations with my friends (alongside weightier ones about literature, politics and the weather and anything else).

Her scattered references also seem to typify an internet-lead generation. Would our parents have been as comfortable claiming they admired the style of people from their parents generation? (For the record, Chung includes Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Anna Karina and Edie Sedgwick as some of her style icons. She also introduces Winona Ryder in Heathers, Wednesday Addams and Liv Tyler in Empire Records into the canon. All of which I heartily agree with.) It's hard to argue with a lot of her choices - I'd love to wear eyeliner like the Ronettes, and fall in love to The Flamingos. I'd be very happy if this book encourages any teenagers to take up either of those things.

This book is very light on actual style tips. There's a brief page on make-up, gym gear, hair and underwear and the like. You could flick through the whole thing in less than 30 minutes, but I imagine some fans will pour over this and the pictures of Chung and her friends used to illustrate the book for hours.

The oddest section is one on heartbreak - I'm surprised she wrote about her own heartbreak with such honesty, and then allowed it to be published. But I'm pleased that she did. It's surprisingly refreshing to read about a celebrity's life not being exactly perfect without it having to be a shocking story or a headline worthy drama. And when you pass the book onto your grandkids, that will probably be the bit when they finally grasp something of Chung's appeal.

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  1. I really love your Last-Year Reads... do you know of any book written before Jean Dawnay's Model Girl (1956) about the modeling industry / professional written from the model's perspective? If so, I would love to know and read it! Thanks :)

  2. Hi Jason, thanks so much for your comment.

    I'm on the hunt for something very similar myself at the moment, but they are a bit scarce on the ground I think.

    There are a couple of earlier books on my to read list that are written by agents, rather than models: Clyde Matthew Dessner's So You Want To Be a Model from 1943 and John Robert Powers's The Powers Girls from 1941. (Cherry Marshall's book is good on the 1940s too: http://lastyeargirl.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/cat-walk-by-cherry-marshall.html. Celia Bertin's 1957 Paris a la Mode goes behind the scenes at the Parisian couture house and includes a chapter on mannequins but again not from a model's perspective.

    There's the French novel I mentioned in the Clothes Pegs post - Lucy Clairin's Journal d'un mannequin (1937), although my French isn't up to that!

    I will keep my eyes open and let you know if I unearth anything - I'd be really grateful if you could pop back and let me know if you find anything too :) Good luck!

    1. Thank you and I absolutely will.


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