Welcome to Zoom Date, our new feature series where we get up close and personal via Zoom screen with our favorite celebs. They'll be giving us an honest peek into what their "new normal" looks like—from new rituals they've adopted since quarantine, to work projects in the age of isolation, to the beauty and health products they've been using to self-soothe.
From her work as a fashion reporter in the mid-aughts to the launch of her eponymous label in 2017—not to mention her recent stint co-hosting Next in Fashion alongside Queer Eye star Tan France—Alexa Chung has made a career out of being on the cutting edge of how women present themselves. Fast-forward to a global state of self-quarantine in which most of us are having a hard time getting out of bed, let alone putting on clothes, one question lingers: what could there possibly be to say about fashion right now? For Chung, getting dressed in lockdown is a matter of self-care, not obligation. Whether instituting family dress-up nights or just getting ready for yet another day around the house, the model and designer sees clothing as key to managing her mood in self-isolation. It’s that same attitude—the idea of getting ready in the morning as a pursuit that’s both self-indulgent and practical—that underscores her new role as global ambassador for London-based luxury beauty brand Code8. The goal for both Code8 and Chung: to offer an elegant, uncomplicated approach to beauty. I recently caught up with Chung over Zoom to talk about taking pride in your appearance, taking style inspo from Meryl Streep in Deerhunter, and taking the time to floss in isolation.
How are you? Where are you hunkered down at the moment?
I’m all good, thanks. I’m in East London, in my house. I was in the countryside for about six weeks at my boyfriend’s parents’ house, and then we came back to London maybe two or three weeks ago. It was great to be there, but it got really embarrassing to put up a beauty light and try to do a video in a house with my boyfriend’s family—I’d be like, “Hi guys, thanks for watching YouTube!” Then they’d open the door and I’d be like, “Ooh, sorry, Lulu, do you mind, can I just have five minutes?” Like, I can’t really boss around his family.
Yeah, I’m at my girlfriend’s parents’ house right now, so I get it.
Are you? Oh my god, for how many weeks?
It’s been almost two months now.
Oh, yeah. The other thing is, you don’t know your way around other people’s kitchens—that’s what did my head in in the end, it’s like, wanting to help clear up, wanting to help cook something but having to ask for every single utensil like, “Sorry, where’s the whisk? Sorry, do you have a wooden spoon?”
What is your routine looking like these days in the middle of all this? I’m assuming it’s quite a bit different from your routine pre-quarantine.
The crucial thing is, before this happened, I didn’t ever have a routine. I was lucky enough to travel a lot, and I was doing such varied things that I never really had one day that looked like the next, so it’s been quite a change to just psychologically know I literally have to be in one place for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. To be honest with you, I have realized that I am not an early riser, and I like to wake up at 10 a.m. Then I work out, which is another thing that I never regularly did. Three girlfriends of mine, we Zoom every day or every other day, and we do kind of made-up exercises which are like a cross between Ballet Beautiful and the Nike app stuff. And some kind of meditation at the end, which I’ve kind of always been like, “Absolutely not,” but something about the group situation has been so nice.
And then I go up and have a shower, and I wash my face in the shower with Dr. Loretta face wash. I can’t say I’ve shaved for a very long time—the razor went rusty and I haven’t bought a replacement one, so that’s out the window. I’ve got really into flossing as well, which I’ve got to tell you is not a British thing, necessarily, but now I’m terrified of having to go to the dentist in this time, so I’m super into my teeth, which I always should have been, but here we are. And then it’s moisturizing the face, and because I have all this extra time, I’ll moisturize the body as well with CeraVe body moisturizer, and then I get a fancy oil and tip it in with the moisturizer.
That’s so interesting, because right beauty is something that can easily either feel frivolous or like an act of self-care. I think the key to finding that balance is, like, how much routine is enough to make you still feel like a person without it feeling like a useless obligation?
Yeah, totally. And with beauty products, I’ve spent a good decade talking about how I’m not that into endless-step routines—I just don’t really relish spending an hour trying to make myself look a different way. But then from watching Queer Eye, I had different respect for the ritual of applying makeup and seeing how much of a change that doing makeup or even getting a manicure or having your hair done can make, because it’s actually just about taking pride in yourself.
It could be quite meditative in the morning to wash your face, moisturize it—that’s self-care, it’s self-love. But at the same time, I think a lot of brands capitalize on that and so that’s where it gets confusing. Because it’s like, “Oh, now you’re telling me I have to do all that otherwise I’m neglecting myself?” I think it’s up to the individual to decide how much or how little makeup is appropriate to wear. That’s why I’m really pleased that Code8 chose to work with me, ‘cause I think it’s pretty cool that they’ve been honest about actually identifying with my sort of approach to beauty. They’re making makeup to support a personality rather than creating one with their tools.
Let’s talk a little bit about your partnership with Code8. Most of your partnerships have been with fashion brands in the past—what made you decide to partner with Code8?
For me, going into any partnership, it really does need to be authentic, and it needs to be something I really love and actually would use and wear. I care about clothes a lot, but with beauty I really need things to be straightforward and simple, and in that respect, I think Code8 has a similar approach. Their mission really is to decode beauty, so none of the products are intimidating or super specific—the vibe is kind of like, you wanna look fashionable and cool, but at the same time, you just want to be told what the one thing is that does that so it’s not an overwhelming proposition.
Why is it a valuable message right now that uncomplicated beauty should be for everyone?
Well, obviously makeup should be for everyone. There isn’t just one type of woman on the planet that makeup should be for, like, “If you are this height and this weight and this white, then you get to wear it.” I’m of mixed-race heritage, and I’m really proud and pleased of the fact that they chose me to represent their brand, because I’m not a standard blonde white girl that is pumping out these videos. And for me it felt appealing to work with an unfussy brand who just want to make quite a practical product, which also has a synergy with my approach to getting dressed. I love playing with clothes and I love how freeing I find the fashion industry to be, but at the same time, everything I wear, even if it’s the prettiest thing ever, has to have a pocket to it. I think that practicality is echoed in Code8—like, their beauty balm, you kind of can’t "cock it up," to say a Britishism. The idea that you’re in safe hands and the products are kind of idiot-proof is very reassuring to me.
Speaking of fashion, how have you been turning to clothing as a tool to either support you or find escape in during this time?
With clothes, I’ve always had such an appreciation of their transformative power. I definitely don’t feel like myself unless I’m wearing the right thing that day, and my mood changes. I’ve been wearing a lot of dresses if I’m feeling a bit down that I haven’t seen the outdoors or socialized for a long time. We try to make it fun, like having a dinner party with a theme, or at my boyfriend’s parents’ house we did fancy dress nights, which I guess means costume nights. And dressing up for dinner. I’m in the same house as my boyfriend for 24 hours a day every day, so to take that time and go and have a bath, get dressed and come back down just makes it kind of a bit more playful, rather than feeling like I’m in a Victorian prison.
Although you could go in the opposite direction and go full Miss Havisham if you wanted to.
Oh, there have definitely been days where I haven’t got out of my nightie and I’m quite literally in the attic because I’ve been clearing out my loft space up there, so I was getting quite mothbally, um, a little bit kind of Jane Eyre-esque. I mean, I literally live in a gothic house, so it’s quite easy to get swept away in the idea that I’m from actually the 1800s in here. But now I’m making the effort again. I put on my outfit according to the mood, so if I’m feeling like Safari Dad I’ll do safari shorts with maybe a loud Prada top. And that kind of dictates the makeup, so if I’m wearing all black then I can d the Code8 Pop Art red lip [Matte Velour Lipstick], or if I’m in a floaty tea dress then it’s just curling my eyelashes and putting something shimmery on the eyelid. Or at night when I’m cooking dinner, if I want to make kind of a bigger splash, I might put on the [Precision] black fine liquid eyeliner."
What are you doing to find inspiration right now?
Well, I think I’m quite lucky in that almost anything I do in terms of like watching a film or reading a book or whatever, I can sort of use as inspiration for the design process. Right now, I’m definitely indulging in movies that I never got around to seeing but that everyone’s done, like The Godfather or Deerhunter or Out Of Africa, and I’ve been really inspired by a lot of those fashions. We did a dress-up party recently and I dressed up as—this is a very specific, quite niche one, but I went as Meryl Streep in Deerhunter in the wedding scene, because I love that they’re all in their bridesmaids dresses, getting in their car, getting ready to go to the thing, but they’ve all got these down coats on over the top of their very pretty wedding outfits. I just love stuff like that. I love when women have really made the effort and they’re looking so pretty and exactly what you imagine the male gaze responds to, and then they’ve kind of ruined it by putting this shitty coat over the top. I’m like, Perfecto! It literally has layers to it.
How’s your mental health been throughout all this?
Pretty good. I mean, I’m so lucky, because I’m with someone I really love, and my siblings also live within walking distance, so we’re able to wave at each other. And I think I probably was less healthy before this started, always rushing around, always suffering from jet lag and having so much on my plate. I think a mistake I made at the beginning which I tried to stop doing was reading the news too much. Like, before I went to bed, as soon as I woke up, I’d Google COVID-19 and read all the stories, and I’d get into this thing of worrying about how the economy’s going to be fucked, I don’t know what’s going to happen to my business, will anyone ever employ anyone ever again—like, that sends me into the spiral. As soon as I could relinquish that and understand it was out of my control, then I sort of felt better. I’ve been trying to focus on good things, slow things, like appreciating wildlife and just being grateful for the things that I have.
We’ve talked about your new routine and some of the habits you’ve picked up as a way of coping. Are there some things that you’re finding you want to keep doing after quarantine ends?
Yeah, for sure. Having breakfast is a big one for me, because usually I prioritize sleep over everything else, so waking up too late and then running to the office and then just waiting til lunch to have the first thing I have that day is why I get irritable in the morning, because I wind up kind of living on coffee and cigarettes. So replacing that with actually bothering to boil an egg or having yogurt or whatever it is, that’s been really nice. Cooking is a huge one because I never cooked before really at all. I lived in New York for seven years—I did not turn my oven on once. And my family can all cook, and my brother’s particularly good, but it turns out I’m not that bad, so that’s nice. I’ve also noticed that people have been a lot kinder, at least in my local community. I hope once this situation evaporates that what’s left is we’ve learned to connect in a more meaningful and slower way. I hope I can continue to carry that through and not worry as much about keeping up with everything. It’s actually really nice to miss parties. I want to stay in more.