From the perfect french tuck to freezing your jeans, here are all the fashion tips Stylist’s Susan Riley could extract from Alexa Chung and Tan France in 45 minutes…
If you’ve already seen it you’ll know Next In Fashion is like the sartorial version of MasterChef: The Professionals, minus Greg Wallace licking pudding bowls with glee. If it’s next on your watch list, I’ll explain.
NIF is where up-and-coming fashion designers compete in challenges in their quest to get their big break. There are sharp suits being crafted in 72 hours, lingerie being reinterpreted, know-their-stuff guest judges such as Phillip Lim and Eva Chen… all of which is expertly presided over by Talexa: Tan France and Alexa Chung.
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The pair had met only once before signing up to present it, at Victoria Beckham’s YouTube party in 2019. “We met for half an hour and declared our undying love for each other, which was very sweet,” France (a strong contender for the nicest man on earth) tells me as we huddle round a table at London’s Corinthia hotel. “She’d seen what I do and I’ve been obsessed with her since I was 19.”
It was clearly fate. France was on the lookout for a ‘work wife’ for his new Netflix project and texted his team the next day to say it had to be her. “Apparently Tan mentioned this show to me that night but I was drunk and didn’t hear,” Chung admits.
The pair are a cosy slipper-like fit; a fashion yin and yang (France previously launched and sold his own line, Kingdom & State, while Chung had a score of fashion collaborations to her name before launching her own label AlexaChung in 2017). They also clearly genuinely like each other. Granted, it’s not the soulmate certainty that oozes from France with his Queer Eye quintet Antoni, JVN, Bobby and Karamo, but there’s definite sparkle – as seen in each episode’s pithy opening segments; my favourite being their denim homage to Britney and Justin. I know I don’t have to explain.
The allure of the project, aside from working with each other? “The candidates,” says Chung. “They were either from reputable art colleges or had interned at preexisting fashion houses; they just hadn’t had the opportunity to have the platform for global recognition.” Tan agrees. “I’m a designer – I want other designers to watch and think these people are highly skilled craftsmen. I [also] didn’t want a show that felt negative and where people were mean.”
Ah yes; his niceness. France is a masterclass in giving constructive criticism wrapped up in the warmest hug. “Tan is exceptional at emotional connection,” says Chung. “If I’m confronted with an emotionally charged situation, my first instinct is to make a joke. Whereas Tan is able to comfortably, and in a supportive way, talk to someone about a struggle or a journey in a way that – by sharing it – it’s a healing experience for people watching. So that was lovely to see happening in motion. Not that I was able to gain any better knowledge of how to do it!”
So what is his secret? “In Asian households, there’s not much shying away from confrontation, so you find a way to say whatever you need to say,” explains Tan. “And I think I learnt with my husband quite honestly. He’s from Wyoming, he’s a former Mormon – they’re very sweet, sensitive people who don’t do confrontation well. So the last 12 years of being [together] I have learnt how to dress up something that is actually quite painful to say.”
I feel this is a fitting juncture to move on to the Stylist readers’ fashion dilemmas. Alexa and Tan, be kind.
Alexa and Tan with guest judges on Next in Fashion.
Where do I start with clothes shopping when there are so many trends? Alexa: I’ve never believed in them. ‘What trend are you into?’ used to be one of my least favourite questions.
Tan: There are two reasons why I say don’t [adhere to trends]. We really should be considering our climate and buying a new trend every 15 seconds isn’t going to help that situation. And if you’re wearing the hottest trend but you feel like a twat in it, you’re going to feel like a twat and look like a twat. Wear something that actually feels like you.
How do you execute the perfect French tuck?
T: It’s so simple. It has to be something oversized otherwise it looks awkward. I then tuck about an inch of it into the very centre of my jeans, then I pull it out everywhere else so that it almost looks unintentional.
I’m small in height, how do I style things when everything is seemingly designed for tall people?
T: [To Alexa] You can’t answer this cause you’re a fucking giant! I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again: find a tailor and I know that might sound bougie but you can get your pants taken up for like five quid.
A: When you say tailor you mean like the dry cleaners where they fix things?
T: Yeah, like an alterations person. And don’t go for super cropped things, that’s going to make you look shorter and wider than you are.
“We really should be considering our climate and buying a new trend every 15 seconds isn’t going to help that situation”
I have a wardrobe stuffed with clothes but can’t seem to make an outfit out of them. How do I start putting great outfits together?
A: Invest in a pair of black, well-tailored trousers. Then wear them with everything else in your wardrobe: a jumper, a shirt, a T-shirt. I only know this because recently I bought a pair of Bella Freud black tux pants – wide leg, normal height with velvet down the side – and they literally go with everything. I was like, wow, this is amazing! It’s finding that one thing and then doing a 360 spin on the rest of it.
T: One thing I say to my husband regularly is don’t look at the things in your closet as fancy pieces you’re only going to wear every eight months. Find a way to wear it in your regular life.
A: I also think a white shirt goes a long way. So buy the classics. It’s a white shirt, it’s a black pant… Do you know what you can buy is the AlexaChung Ace Collection, dropping in March, which will solve all of those issues. It’s the slip dress, it’s the cardigan, it’s the blazer, it’s the jean…
T: [My capsule would be] a great fitting black or navy suit, a great fitting white tee, a great fitting white shirt. When I say great fitting it doesn’t have to be a thousand dollars, it could just be Cos. As long as it makes you feel incredible.
A: What’s the other Cos shop that’s not Cos? Arket! Arket I love. They have good socks. They’re by the till.
I still love skinny jeans, but is there a more current alternative?
A: What about a slightly wider one; a cigarette jean. So no elastic just a straight cut. Kind of like a 501?
T: I think skinny jeans are a classic and there’s no need for an alternative if you feel so good in them.
I’d like to find the perfect black boot that goes with anything. What style do you suggest?
T: I love a Ferragamo black boot.
A: They’re the best! I also found some the other day on Marylebone High Street in the sale. They were Sessùn. I’m scared to tell you as I’m worried they don’t have many left and I was conflicted but they were perfect: zip up the side, high but not knee high, mid heel, chunky. Or you can wait for the new AlexaChung Forever Boots [laughs].
I cannot dress for winter. I can’t layer and there’s too much going on. Help.
A: I really struggle with it. How do you look cute when it’s a New York winter and you’re, like, dying.
T: That’s my favourite [season]. I usually go for a boot or a sneaker; a high waisted moment and a big duster-style coat. Long coats dress up anything.
A: I’ve got it! A J Crew black roll-neck cashmere jumper with a denim jacket and camel coat. With my black trousers or mini skirt with black tights. I don’t own the J Crew black one [roll-neck], I’m going to buy it.
T: I own the navy, green and the cream. They’re wicked.
A: I’ve also been living in these riding boots. They’re vintage. I found them a few years ago and hadn’t worn them but suddenly they make a lot of sense to me. I’m really into a riding boot in winter because you can put them under your trouser and your whole leg is warm. It’s changed my life.
“If you’re wearing the hottest trend but you feel like a twat in it, you’re going to feel like a twat and look like a twat. Wear something that actually feels like you”
I want to have more fun with colour at work. How do I steer clear of blacks, greys and neutrals yet still look hyper-polished?
T: I live in a navy. If you don’t love black or grey then go for a navy.
A: I would go for a Dries Van Noten men’s zone and wear a navy trouser with an acid yellow mohair jumper.
T: And then to give you an accessible option, a Cos version of it…
A: What about, black trousers, black roll neck, shocking pink shirt? So you’re like a mime [artist] that wandered into a Cos store? Or what about a hair accessory like an alice band or a nice ribbon?
Looking good in a hat: how?
A: No, some people just don’t suit them.
T: It depends on the shape of your head.
A: For example, having just mentioned alice bands, they look so bad on me because my head’s quite long.
T: It’s like cool berets, they’re very in, but my features are way too large to facilitate.
A: You just have to be upfront about what suits you.
How can I have more fun with fashion trends without wasting money and harming the environment?
T: If you’re concerned about the environment, don’t play into a trend.
A: I live by a Traid [charity shop], and that’s really good. If you buy something vintage, you’re donating to charity and also giving somebody’s discarded thing a second life. A lot of fashion is informed and inspired by vintage anyway. It’s a treasure hunt.
I have a large bust and it ruins the line of everything I wear. What’s the solution?
T: Don’t wear a high neck; it’s going to make your bust look even bigger than it is.
A: Do you want to talk about when you taught me how to wear my bra?
A: You’re going to hate me today. It’s so loose.
T: First and foremost make sure your bra [straps] are on the right setting. If it’s in the same position as it was when you first purchased that bra, you’re wearing it wrong.
A: He came over to me and went, “You know you’re wearing your bra wrong?” I was like, “No…” Then he did it up to where it should be and my boobs were like… Actually can you do it again? Show her!
T: [Holding on to Chung’s bra straps] Look, right now I can fit a whole two fists [between the strap and shoulder]; you should be able to fit two fingers in there. That’s going to lift your boobs into a position where it’s not going to give you back problems. Look! Such a difference.
I have spent my whole life searching for a really good pair of jeans and still haven’t found them. Where do you buy your denim?
T: I don’t spend a lot of money on denim because I change my mind constantly. I will buy them from Levi’s or J Crew or Zara.
A: You’re fluffing it. You’re fluffing it so hard. Denim used to be so much better than it is now so I go to a vintage or thrift store. It’s an annoying process but one day you will find the perfect pair. [Remember with] vintage denim, you’re four sizes bigger than you think you are; I’m 25 in modern denim but in vintage I’m a 29 or 30 waist. Levi’s vintage with an orange tab is always really good; 70s denim is the dream.
T: I don’t wash my jeans; I put them in the freezer overnight which kills the bacteria.
A: You can either put them in the sea or in the freezer.
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Any tips on what to wear to a wedding?
A: It’s a tough thing to get right. You want to be warm but even in summer it’s freezing at night. And you don’t want to challenge the bride with something too extra. I’d say again, either vintage vibes or buy it when you see it if you can afford to do that. [Recently] I’ve worn an Alessandra Rich pink tweed suit – skirt with a jacket – and a Paco Rabanne floral dress.
T: I’ve only been to one white person wedding. I just wore a suit. I don’t know what people wear to weddings!
Do you have any fashion dilemmas of your own?
T: Mine is this: everybody when they meet me now expects me to comment on their outfit. I don’t care what you’re wearing! I’m so consumed with WTF I’m wearing I didn’t even notice you had a head!
A: People like to pretend clothes don’t exist near me. No one’s ever said I look nice. My dilemma is I don’t know what shoe size I am. Every shop online has a different interpretation of what Italian, French, UK and US sizings are so what I would really like to happen is for everyone to get together and talk about it.
T: I buy the size I think I am and the size up [when ordering online].
Do you ever buy two of something that you love?
T: Always. I buy two of most things now because I don’t know where I’m going to be. So I think, ‘This is for my house and this is for when I am travelling.’
A: Do you? That’s so clever. You rich girl! Live your best life, we are happy for you!
Next In Fashion is streaming now on Netflix.
Photography: Tom Van Schelven