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Alexa Chung's New Guide to Life Puts The "It" In Wit.

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alexachung1.jpg"It isn't beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It's just 'It'," recites Alexa Chung over the phone from Fuse Studios in New York where she films her nightly music and entertainment TV show, Fuse News. That line is from a Rudyard Kipling short story, and she knows it by rote since being crowned with that fickle word "It" a few years ago when she became a stylish staple in London's nightlife scene, known for wearing Peter Pan collars, Converse with Valentino lace shifts and Barbour coats. It is also the title of her new book, out this fall from Penguin, which is part diary, part sketchbook and part DIY guide that feels more like a girlfriend's Instagram feed than a Trinny and Susannah How-To tome. It's a visual and verbal stream of consciousness that might read something like James Joyce, if Joyce had a thing for Jane Birkin and great tips for bed head.

In the book, Chung gives her fans style inspirations (Edie Sedgwick, her Grandpa Kwan), personal anecdotes (bum-rushing Marianne Faithfull in Paris for break-up advice), helpful beauty tips (keep nail varnish in the fridge) and recreational advice ("Get a balloon and a best friend. Go to a festival in a desert. Be 24.").

alexachung2.jpgBut what saves Chung from the vacancy of "It" -- a frankly dangerous title for maintaining any intellectual credibility -- is her smart, trigger-quick wit and an insidiously inviting quality that a TV host must possess to interview celebrity guests and navigate conversations that cover R. Kelly, Robyn and Riccardo Tisci with humor and effortless timing before throwing to commercial.

Her quips come in handy when recalling some of the darker moments of her modeling days back in London. "At one point they suggested I change my name to Poppy -- Poppy C! Can you imagine? They're like, 'Oh, darling, we've got so many Alexas at the agency.' It was like Ab Fab, but it was also so depressing. You'd have a friend who's named Clara or something and then they come back one day and they'd be like, 'They want me to change my name to Storm.' It was always like something really naff, like, 'Oh, they want me to be called Eden now.'"

alexachung3.jpgThough her Poppy and Storm days are long behind her, clothes are still what make her specific demimonde go round. "The business is selling clothes to people, and although I didn't always love the people, I've certainly always loved clothes," she says. She designed two of her own very popular collections with J.Crew for their hipper brand Madewell and counts Karl Lagerfeld and Christopher Kane as a few of her high-fashion fans. Despite the manipulations, egos and cynicism rampant in fashion, Chung is still able to have fun with it. "You can't take anything that only lasts three months very seriously," she says. "In the epicenter, you've got the person with the talent that's actually an artist and amazing, and then the further away you get from the middle, people get a bit meaner because they don't get the opportunity to express themselves or they get more insecure. If you have a direct dialogue with the designer, then you often find that they're just like, 'Fuck it, it's just clothes.'"

alexachung4.jpgQuipping with Kaiser Karl is a far cry from the Hampshire village Chung comes from. "Growing up in the countryside, I wanted to be as far away from that as I possibly could because I thought it was incredibly boring. I just would walk around fields dreaming of this future life I might have in the middle of the excitement. Wherever the fun was, I wanted to be like slap-bang in the middle of it because I felt like I had spent so many years just like drifting around on my own in corn." For the moment, that slap-bang middle is in New York, where Chung's survived a big chunk of her 20s (she turns 30 this month), though not without the requisite heartbreak and professional redirections. (She originally moved across the pond with her then-boyfriend Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys to host a short-lived show on MTV.) But Chung wavers on a permanent residence. Like most 20-somethings in the last decade, the city was revealed to her through the divine oracles of Friends and Sex and the City, with Candace Bushnell as Emma Lazarus, welcoming the stylishly tempest-tossed. "Even when I was writing the book," Chung says, "I'm like, 'Oh my god, I'm actually Carrie Bradshaw, but in a vest.'"



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