Monday, May 11, 2009

Fashionista's "Life With Jenna Lyons" Article

A big "thanks!" to Emily & JCrew1985 (in this post) who shared with us a fascinating article about Jenna Lyons, over at Fashionista (click here to read the article in its entirety).

Life With Jenna Lyons! Part I
By Britt Aboutaleb
May 08, 2009

I spent Monday afternoon with Jenna Lyons, the Creative Director of J.Crew and pretty much the most dynamic person I have ever met.

First of all, J.Crew is huge. Their office takes up two floors, each the size of a city block and includes everything from photo studios to mock-up stores to color libraries to faux store windows to design to merchandising to catalog to Crewcuts to Madewell - seriously, overwhelmingly big.

In two hours, we toured the building and met the head designer’s various department teams: denim, kids, shoes, bags, jewelry, graphic tees, etc. I tried to grill Jenna on her day to day life but there’s just too damn much.

I naively assumed that when one lands in a top position at a major company, one signs off on other people’s creative decisions and orchestrates everything from above instead of minutely contributing to every single facet of the business. But no, whether it’s deciding what color to paint the staircase in the East Hampton store, which chairs to put in the renovated Prince Street location, sourcing wooden hands on which to display gloves come fall, casting catalog models, deciding how to sell colored pencils at Crewcuts, how one collaborates with a man who makes shirts out of sugar cane, or recruiting artists to work with, Jenna Lyons is deeply, deeply, deeply involved.

Here, we talk collaborations, models and vintage jewels. Monday we’ll talk personal history, architectural meetings and Mickey Drexler’s bike.

Ok, well today then, what’d you do today?

Well first thing this morning, I met with our jewelry girl to talk about these vintage Miriam Haskell pieces I picked up this weekend. We’re trying to figure out, you know, is there a way to modernize them?

Those are amazing.
That’s the thing, we’re trying to decide, you know, I’ll ask you. I love this, but I’m not wearing it like this, it’s a little old and little matronly and they’re all kind of like that. These are collectors items, so the question is - I mean we will be re-selling these, not copying them in any sort of way - is it horrible to kind of take this part off and put it on something longer or on a thicker chain because that’s the way I’d wear it?

Where would you re-sell them? Have you guys done that before, re-sold vintage?
Oh yeah, we do it all the time. We sell it at the collection store uptown.

That’s why! I never go up there - now I’ll have to. I’m a big J.Crew person.

Yeah, we sell them up there and we’re re-doing Prince and sell some in Malibu.

Where’d you find the jewels?

At this great vintage store in the Hamptons. I went to check out our new store and found this place. I mean, they’re real pearls. They’re expensive and I want a really cool girl to be able to buy them but I won’t buy them like this. So maybe we take two and alter them and leave two the way they are and see which sells better?

Sounds smart.

Okay, so then, back to my day, actually this is really unbelievable. We had a disaster preparation meeting. Like what would happen if the building burned down, what would we do? And we basically we’re talking about how would we handle that from a design perspective. Everything we have here is so - it’s not replaceable, so what would be our next step? What would the first week look like if we lost everything?

Woah. Do you have meetings like that often?

Not necessarily all the time but it’s sort of an interesting place to be where you’re meeting and talking about all these different random things. I mean it’s sort of a funny thing to be involved in. I design! And then I met this woman from Art Co. which basically hooks up artists with brands and he saw the collaboration we did with Alex Katz. That had just happened on a fluke but we were talking about ways we could meet with other artists, artists we don’t even know. So that was incredibly interesting and fun. And then I went through a casting meeting for our next book. You know, who are the new girls? Who are we loving? Who’s coming up?

Who do we want to try and get?

Do people come to you with the model choices and you approve or do you actually hand pick yourself?
It’s both. I spend a lot of time talking with Gail, who’s our stylist, and she and I love watching the shows and I’m always like, “Who’s Agnete???” Who’s this one, who’s this one and then the next time we meet they’re like, “Ok, here’s who you asked me about - not available, we can try this person. Erin Wasson’s back on the scene even though you loved her ages ago or Magdalena Fracoviwak just came in and oh my god she’s amazing, or this one’s traveling.” So it’s a very collaborative process. I love looking at the girls.

I interviewed Behati Prinsloo recently and she raved about modeling for you guys.
Oh god I love her. It’s so fun working with girls who just really get and really love the clothes. Once you can find somebody that can wear the clothes well, is a good fit, nicely proportioned, can handle a twelve to fourteen hour day…

You guys go on location a lot, too.

We do, it’s about half location, half studio. We mail thirteen to fourteen books a year and it’s usually seven/seven or six/eight. And the location shoots are challenging - we were on location last week and I was literally on the phone all weekend with the art director and then there was rain and an issue where the model’s super young, a little less experienced and things weren’t totally jiving and it ended up all working out but you know, we had to work up contingency plans. And sometimes it’s harder to capture the clothes when you’re on location, it’s easy to capture the mood, but you can’t forget the actual clothes. Anyway, so after the casting meeting, I met with some people from a company called Billy Kirk, they make handmade leather goods here in the US so we’re talking about doing a collaboration with them.

You guys collaborate with so many people - it’s really cool.
Yeah it’s really fun. Mickey totally opened the door to that. And it’s fun because it’s ways to share - I mean do you know Liya Kebede? ...

What are your thoughts on the article (like or dislike)? Were there any aspects that you found particularly interesting or insightful? :)


  1. her job sounds very hectic - i didn't know she was so involved with the day-to-day!

  2. I'm surprised she has to deal with picking the paint in a specific stores rather than just working on design of women's clothes. That seems like something another director should be doing.

  3. Very interesting article- thanks for posting! :D

  4. What an interesting read! Loved the photos of the offices, and I'm curious about the new jewelry designer. They have so much going on - sounds like a fun place to work!

  5. I'm looking forward to the 2nd half of the interview.

    I always like seeing pictures of work spaces, so I guess so far that's the most interesting part of the article for me. :)

  6. She sounds like she wants to have her hand in nearly everything J.Crew does design wise. This can be both good and bad, depending on her vision and her track record.

    I like much of what she does, but like all of us she has her off days too.

  7. Thank you for sharing the article. It's interesting to see a "day in the life" of an accomplished design professional.

    Being responsible for the overall creative direction of J.Crew means that Jenna has the accountability for it all as well. Every aspect requires her attention. Perhaps she could delegate to others but she is likely driven to be involved at every level of detail. Certainly that includes some prime retail locations.

    Overall she does a great job IMO. Sure, there are missteps or decisions that don't fly as well as planned but for the most part I am still loving a lot of J.Crew.

  8. I think it's great that she has so much creative control over what's happening at JC. I actually thought she only took care of the clothing aspects. I think she's pretty awesome.


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