Nov. 3, 2023
VCU fashion grad Alexandra Mitchell puts a vintage spin on today’s rock stars, ‘Loki’ and more
An acclaimed Rolling Stone magazine cover for boygenius this year reflects a style with roots in her Richmond youth – and her ties to indie star Lucy Dacus.
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Alexandra Mitchell is the eye for style behind some of the biggest acts in indie rock today. That iconic Rolling Stone cover this year of boygenius in the style of Nirvana’s famous Mademoiselle photoshoot? That was her idea.
Mitchell is a 2016 Virginia Commonwealth University graduate, and her vision, research, curation and skill help musicians tell a visual story with their fashion choices. That is increasingly important today in a renaissance (a la Beyoncé) for live music where a performer’s wardrobe is part of the spectacle of seeing them in concert and (shout-out, Taylor Swift) where concertgoers put hours of effort into their own attire.
Since graduating from VCU’s School of the Arts with a B.A. in fashion merchandising, Mitchell has worked as a researcher for vintage fashion, as an authentication and pricing specialist at The RealReal and as a freelance stylist, consultant and vintage specialist partnering with groups from indie music acts to Disney and Marvel. But when she arrived at VCU, she had her heart set on storytelling through another path.
“I was originally studying journalism,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to write about fashion.”
An early eye for fashion – and an ear for music
Mitchell began exploring fashion early on – from sewing new clothes for Barbies with her mom as a 5-year-old to going to concerts with her dad and finding music for herself as a teenager.
“When I started experimenting with how I dressed, it was definitely around the same time that I got into music, too. With emo bands, I felt like, ‘I can dress different. I can be different,’” Mitchell said. “There was some inspiration from there. I used to dye my hair a lot as a kid – like every color – when I was 13-14 in middle school. I did some sewing of my own clothes – I was never really good at sewing, but my mom would help me.”
Music was another way into fashion. Her dad, an avid record collector, was “always playing music at home – the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Neil Young, New Order, Talking Heads, Patti Smith – all things good,” Mitchell said.
“My first concert, he took me to see the Go-Go’s when I was 13,” Mitchell said. “There was always a lot of music playing, and how musicians dressed and incorporated dress into their storytelling was an early inspiration for me.”
For just as long, VCU had been on Mitchell’s radar. She grew up in Richmond, attending Fox Elementary School and Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School within miles of VCU’s campus, and her dad was a VCU grad. While pursuing a degree in mass communications at VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture, Mitchell began writing for VCU’s Ink Magazine.
“It felt like, ‘I’ve got to get fashion in here somehow.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to study journalism and then I want to write about fashion,’” Mitchell said. “As much as I loved writing, it felt like I was still kind of hiding from what I really wanted to do, which was just commit to fashion, being in fashion. I realized I’m going to get the most out of my college career if I’m really honest about what I want to be learning about. It took awhile to really say: ‘No, this is what I want to do, and I’m just going to go in head-first.’”
Saying ‘yes’ to a career in fashion
As she started taking courses in VCUarts, an internship opportunity at The Valentine, which arose out of assistant professor Jackie Mullins‘ fashion history course, opened her eyes to a future in fashion.
So did a summer course focused on luxury and fashion with Deidra Arrington, chair of the Department of Fashion Design+Merchandising. She and her classmates visited a trend forecasting agency, high-end jewelry company Verdura and other fashion landmarks in New York City. “I’d never gotten to see behind the curtain in fashion before,” Mitchell said.
By the end of the summer after graduation, Mitchell had fully stepped behind the curtain, moving to New York and working for the small vintage company Byronesque. There, she worked with a team to track down the “ultimate grail vintage piece that you haven’t been able to find” for customers, which helped her get familiar with working with vintage dealers and putting on pop-ups in places like Tokyo and Paris.
“It was, for the first time, interacting with clothing that I’d only seen on Tumblr,” she said.
Mitchell then started working for The RealReal as a specialist in fashion and handbags, authenticating handbags and, later, doing pricing strategy for fine jewelry. In 2020, her dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, so she moved back to Richmond. She began freelancing — including doing some work for Lucy Dacus, the Richmond native who has become one of the brightest stars in indie music.
“We actually lived together at VCU. She’s my old friend,” said Mitchell, who got to know Dacus when the two went to Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School. “She was doing more solo work and asked me to do a few styling jobs for her, which was something we had discussed as an, ‘Oh what if [this happens]?’ situation for a long time. And that was really fun because I got to go to these different brands and start having conversations and pulling clothes.”
Mitchell started off styling Dacus’ looks for DIY Magazine, GoldFlakePaint, Teeth Magazine, The Forty-Five and W Magazine. She went on to style her solo performances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in 2021 and began styling other acts as well, such as Father John Misty’s performance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
“I just tried to keep saying yes to opportunities,” Mitchell said.
An iconic look for boygenius
In 2022, boygenius – a supergroup made up of singer-songwriters Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers – began working on a full-length album, a follow-up to their acclaimed 2018 self-titled EP.
“When boygenius started working together again, I shared an idea with Lucy of, ‘What if you guys were Nirvana?’” said Mitchell, who shared some photos from Nirvana’s Mademoiselle shoot and suggested she might try to source some of the original items. “She was like, ‘Oh my God, we love that, that’s so funny.’ We didn’t talk about it for a long time, and then she reached out saying that Rolling Stone was happening, and she said they wanted to use my idea.”
Mitchell recognized the opportunity for boygenius, a band of queer women, to advance their standing as a defining supergroup.
“I loved boygenius’ original EP, and the cover was a reference to Crosby, Stills & Nash,” Mitchell said. “I already had that in my brain – placing these women among the ranks of the male greats of the music world. It just felt right.
“I liked the idea of this band of men who were known for drab grunge to be dressed in a very colorful and feminine way. To put those looks on Boygenius felt like a very natural extension of the same idea, that the femininity contrasted just as naturally as it did with Nirvana despite boygenius being a band of women, not men.”
As the idea took shape, Mitchell suggested finding some of the pieces that Nirvana wore during their 1993 Mademoiselle shoot.
“I went down some rabbit holes and tried to find some of the original vintage knitwear that the band had been wearing, which proved to be super difficult,” Mitchell said. “But I did end up being able to get in contact with the designer who made those super colorful scarves that the band was wearing as skirts – Gene Meyer, who lives in Morocco now – and he sent some of the original scarves. He only produced them for a couple of years in the ‘90s in Japan, so they’re pretty difficult to find.
“When I started to talk about these ‘what if’ concepts, that’s when I was brought on for the Rolling Stone shoot in a more official capacity.”
Mitchell, credited on the shoot as a vintage specialist, sourced the Meyer scarves for boygenius, as well as an assortment of pins, patches and buttons – later adhered to Gucci suits that the band wore on the cover – that were nods to the singer-songwriters’ solo work and their lyrics on their forthcoming album, “The Record,” which came out in March.
The shoot went viral, racking up millions of views on social media. As boygenius went on their 2023 tour, which wraps up on Halloween at the Hollywood Bowl, fans created patch jackets of their own.
“The response was just so amazing,” Mitchell said. “It was everything I hoped it would be – to have people zooming in and creating these exhaustive lists of what the pin is and what the lyric reference is. It was just so amazing to see, and that’s just the kind of storytelling and depth I want to add to fashion imagery. To see so immediately how it reached people was very gratifying.”
Being in the studio for the shoot was an emotional experience for Mitchell, too, whose father died of brain cancer in 2020.
“We were on set in the studio, and I was full-on crying,” she said. “I was like, ‘I wish my dad could see this,’ because we were subscribed to Rolling Stone throughout my childhood, and he used to tell people that I took my first steps because he held up an issue of Rolling Stone with Courtney Love on the cover.”
Embracing vintage in fresh ways
Since the February issue of Rolling Stone dropped, Mitchell has collaborated with Caroline Polachek's stylist to source vintage for her “Spiraling” tour this year, and she has styled a 1980s McDonald’s pop-up experience to promote season 2 of Disney and Marvel’s “Loki.”
And she continues to curate her own collection, alongside her boyfriend Ian, through their project Arbitrage NYC, where they do consulting work and offer rentals from their robust personal collections of clothing from Balenciaga and Rick Owens.
Mitchell continues to work with artists on how to bring vintage into their work “because vintage is so huge right now,” she said. She loves the access vintage provides – “I can’t afford to go to Prada, but I can spend hours on eBay and find something amazing.” And she appreciates how vintage lasts, much like the lasting nature of the looks she strives to create.
“I want to create very layered images. It’s so easy to scroll past everything and just” – Mitchell snaps her fingers – “consume it in an instant. And I think it’s really special to create images that you can come back to and just look at for a long time.”
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