Alexa Chung talks us through her beauty evolution in an exclusive Stylist shoot

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She brought back the bob and made the cat eye cool. Who better to showcase next season’s make-up trends – and talk us through her life in beauty – than Nails Inc’s global ambassador Alexa Chung

Words And Styling: Samantha Flowers, Photography: David Oldham

Navy liner

Photography: David Oldham

Navy is the new black as dark, inky liner takes the classic feline flick in a more gentle direction. It’s the signature Alexa eye but with a twist.

Visual Eyes Liquid Eyeliner in Marine, £15, Eyeko

WEAR WITH Vitalumière Foundation in 60 Hâlé, £36, Chanel; Lipstick in Obey, £18.50, Illamasqua; Skinny Brush Mascara, £15, Eyeko

Lilac shadow

Photography: David Oldham

The a/w 2014 catwalks saw soft, sheer textures in gentle mauves washed across eyes. Whether softly blended over lids – as on Alexa – built up for a bolder colour or finished with a slick of clear gloss, the versatile shade flatters all skintones.

Cream Eyeshadow in Pearl Beach, £18, Nars

WEAR WITH Me And My Shadow Waterproof Shadow Liner in Charcoal, and Me and My Shadow Waterproof Shadow Liner in Taupe, each £15, Eyeko

Berry lips

Photography: David Oldham

Texture was the key to the season’s statement red lip as make-up artists experimented with finishes to modernise classic shades. For Alexa, a sheer satin lipstick in a vivid plum was applied to enhance her green eyes.

Lipstick in Bruised Plum, £37, Tom Ford

WEAR WITH Lip Definer in 47 Rose Cuivre, £17.50, Chanel; Alexa Nail Polish in Silk, £15, Nails Inc

Green nails

Photography: David Oldham

After multiple seasons of naked nails, autumn’s ‘it’ shade is a very British hue of racing green – seen here on Alexa – which suits all skintones and nail lengths. This season, only a high-shine glossy finish will do.

NailKale Polish in Bruton Mews, £14, Nails Inc

WEAR WITH Me and My Shadow Waterproof Shadow Liner in Charcoal, £15, Eyeko; Rouge Allure Gloss in Pirate, £26, Chanel

A Beautiful Mind

Alexa dissects her beauty evolution, from Union Jack nails and space-age silver eye shadow to YSL lipsticks and that signature cat eye

"When I was young, I used to watch my mum put on Oil of Ulay. Afterwards, I’d steal it and then sit in front of the mirror and give myself a face massage. I remember my friend Michelle once saying to me, ‘Why’s your skin like that?’ and I was like, ‘Erm, because I moisturise.’ I was seven.

I’ve always been interested in beauty. At school, I was the manicurist of the group. Nail art didn’t exist back then, so we’d paint a Union Jack on our nails with Tipp-Ex and biro, or I’d bring in those Hard Candy nail varnishes, the ones with the rings on, and paint everyone’s nails. I’d spend all my pocket money on those and whale-shaped soaps from The Body Shop.

When I was 13, Geri Halliwell was my beauty icon. I remember asking my hairdresser for those chunky stripes but annoyingly, she was in cahoots with my mother and refused to do it. She gave me normal highlights instead and I was devastated. That summer, I went to Arizona with my friend Susannah for the holidays – we packed hot pants, strappy camisoles and stacky shoes and then went out into the desert and recreated the video for Say You’ll Be There.

Alexa wears Alexa Nail Polish in Cashmere, £15, Nails Inc

The following years, I started wearing silver eye shadow – it wasn’t the ‘in’ thing, I just wanted to look like I was from space. Rimmel was my brand of choice and I wore it with the Coffee Shimmer lipstick [£4.99]. In hindsight, they looked awful together but it was the Nineties, so it worked. The fact that I was modelling as a teenager didn’t mean I missed out on any of those awkward beauty phases..

By the time I was 16, I had regular modelling gigs with Sugar and J17 and thankfully, I never felt like I was being scrutinised for my looks – the teams seemed aware they were dealing with impressionable young girls. On castings, you’re asked not to wear make-up, so it was strange that at an age where everyone else was experimenting and finding their ‘look’, I wasn’t.

I remember when I sat down in the make-up chair for my first TV show, Popworld, I’d been so well trained to be a blank canvas after years of modelling that when the make-up artist asked me what look I wanted, I just didn’t know. I was so accustomed to blending into whatever the editors wanted on shoots that I didn’t know myself at all. It took about six months to finally settle on my beauty style.

I remember being in the Popworld make-up room one day trying on wigs. I put on a Sixties-style bob and I was like, ‘This is me!’ I’d just broken up with a boyfriend and that’s always the time you’re like, ‘F*** it, I’m going to cut all my hair off’. I called my hairdresser friend George Northwood and told him I’d figured it out – I should have a Sixties French-New-Wave kind of thing. Then I decided I needed to wear mini dresses to go with my new hair. That was the moment I finally identified with myself.

The cat-eye flick followed on from there, but the make-up artist Kevin Fortune had to really talk me into it. Now, it’s just convenient – it’s the easiest thing to do that makes the most difference. When I was modelling, I’d hear people on set saying things like, ‘This isn’t working on her’, so I just presumed it was because my face looked crap in make-up. I’d think to myself, ‘No, don’t try that, I don’t suit it.’

I didn’t wear red lipstick until I was about 25 for this reason and I have a pathological fear of coloured eyeshadow because I spent my teen years modelling wacky stars and stuff. The liner was easier for me though, as I’m good at drawing so I understood how it could define the eyes. I’d use Mac’s Fluidline gel liner in Blacktrack [£15.50] but I was so fussy about the brush. Nothing was ever thin or pointy enough and I’d ruin so many handbags because I didn’t wash the brush and it would just be in there loose. Also, it wasn’t the most hygienic scenario. That’s why I developed my own liner with Eyeko.

English girl in New York

Alexa in 2006: before her discovery of red lipstick

Travelling for work is fun and I get really inspired when I’m away. Nails are so huge in New York, there’s a nail bar on every corner and it’s cheap, so you hang out there with your friends. So many ideas for my collection with Nails Inc came from living in New York. The best part about being their global ambassador is naming the products, like NailKale. I was also obsessed with getting this mink colour [Cashmere £15] right – it’s the perfect off-neutral to go with everything. I needed to do a red-lace nail polish to match an Erdem dress I was in love with, but never bought – it was the one that got away – but that’s what’s so cool about beauty. You can do anything.

When I moved to New York, I realised how differently they view beauty. In the UK, you’re like, ‘Argh, don’t look at me, I have a spot on my face.’ Americans will say, ‘Just to let you know, I’ve got an appointment with my dermatologist at 3pm to have cortisone put in this.’ It’s amazing and you have to embrace it for its weirdness. But I also became more aware that British women have an edgier, more unique style. In Britain you don’t have to be perfect; we celebrate eccentricities and appreciate diversity. I became fiercely protective of my Britishness in the US and amped it up a notch. I became Hugh Grant. It’s very odd, I was really patriotic.

My entire life has been spent in studios, working, but recently I’ve had time off in Ibiza and LA – you can see I’m tanned for the first time in these photos. What I love about being on shoots is that I discover things all the time, like today with the side-parting. I might wear this style more often now I know it suits me. Usually I’ll stick to three things: Eyeko Me & My Shadow [£15], Stila Convertible Colour blusher in Petunia [£16] – it makes you look awake – and Topshop lipstick in Rio Rio [£8]. I told everyone about the lipstick then it sold out and I was like, ‘F***!’

Oh, and you should try Lucas’ Papaw Ointment [£4]. It’s heavenly. Apart from that, I mainly steal my flatmate’s products. She has all sorts – I don’t even understand a lot of them. What’s a BB cream, for example? I go into her room and she has a different bag for each thing, it’s like an organised treasure trove. I’m the opposite. I travel a lot and have a different YSL lipstick in every bag. I pack one and hope it’s the salmony colour I like. I thought that maybe I should have one of those bags with miniatures for the plane, but I’m just too disorganised.

The age game

Stylist's Samantha Flowers chats to Alexa backstage on our shoot

Turning 30 wasn’t the big deal everyone made it out to be. When you get there, it’s just like 29 or 31. I thought I might feel pressure to have a family, but you realise that 30 is just a young person’s notion of getting old and it’s actually not old. It had zilch effect on the way I thought about my looks. Obviously some days I’ll think, ‘Crap, I look really rough today,’ but no-one I know is devastated because they’re getting old. I do worry about my skin though. I look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘Oh hi wrinkles’. But everyone I love – like Patti Smith or Charlotte Rampling – has wrinkles and they still look beautiful. Sometimes I’m like,‘Oh my god, I’m going to get a facelift’, but I don’t think I really will. I’ll just live in the present and enjoy my remaining youth.

I feel more comfortable in myself now. I’m definitely not as afraid to celebrate my sexuality in a way I couldn’t before. Back then, I couldn’t reconcile the idea of being a feminist and being sexy. I thought I could convey power by dressing like a man but now I realise it’s more about celebrating being a woman."

Inside Alexa's bathroom cabinet

Geranium leaf body cleanser, £17, Aesop

"I love things that smell fresh and clean."

Gentle skin cleanser, £7.99, Cetaphil

"It’s not expensive, but it works."

Olio Lusso, £92, Rodin

"I don’t like gels or serums, it has to be an oil or moisturiser."

Santal 33, £150 for 100ml, Le Labo

"I like to smell unique."

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Stylist Team