During her 27-year tenure at J.Crew, where she worked her way up from assistant to president and executive creative director, Jenna Lyons became, in the words of The New York Times, the “woman who dressed America.”
She introduced us to the perfectly rolled sleeve and the art of sartorial juxtaposition (sequins with denim, cargo pants with feathers, leopard with taffeta, and costume jewelry with a simple T-shirt are all Lyons calling cards). She also taught us how to dress for our unique proportions, and that a crisp men’s button-down truly goes with anything.
At the height of Lyonsmania, she outfitted Michelle Obama, accompanied Lena Dunham to the Met Gala, appeared in the pages of Vogue, and styled models at a New York Fashion Week presentation in her own striking 6-foot image, complete with her signature thick-rimmed glasses and coral lipstick.
Now, nearly four years after her departure from J.Crew, Lyons has reemerged to share her impeccable taste and aesthetic wisdom in a new HBO Max show. Stylish with Jenna Lyons follows the creative visionary as she tackles design projects 60 to help define her future business everything from renovating a friend’s Brooklyn townhouse to hosting mobile fashion makeovers, designing her new office, and launching LoveSeen, a beauty brand with a fresh take on fake lashes that she co-created, she says, “primarily just because I don’t really have any eyelashes myself.”
Along the way, she puts a group of creative associates, all vying for a position at the company, to the test. “For the first time in my life, I had no real job and no structure,” says Lyons, calling from her office, which takes up an entire floor below her apartment in New York’s Soho. “It allowed me to entertain ideas I might not have entertained before and engage in things I never thought I could or would do, which culminated in a show that was remarkably seamless and fun.”
The show also allowed Lyons to build a new team, something that has always been essential to her creative process. “I feel so lucky to have people back around me,” she says. “I get credit for a lot of the style at J.Crew, but it was absolutely all of us feeding off each other. It was like peacocks walking down the hall, and we were all so different. There were people in the office that I would look forward to seeing what they had on, and it would influence me.”
The intro of Stylish highlights Lyons’s story arc, from self-described gawky teen to aspirational fashion icon, a narrative that has made her one of the industry’s most relatable figures. Born in Massachusetts, Lyons moved to Southern California when she was 4 years old.
Growing up in what she calls a “very Baywatch environment,” she found solace, and a way to express herself, in fashion. “There’s a book called Antonio’s Girls by Antonio Lopez, whose friend set was Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, Tina Chow, and Marisa Berenson,” she says. “I found his love and appreciation of all different types of beauty incredibly eye-opening. He inspired me to draw more, which led me to Parsons—and the rest we know.”
The rest, in addition to Stylish and LoveSeen, now includes working on a hotel project in the Bahamas and consulting for Rockefeller Center to reimagine the future of retail and hospitality at the NYC landmark.
How does Lyons keep her creativity flowing amid so many projects? “I feel inherently curious all the time,” she says. “I always want to see and discover something new.” She describes herself as an “Instagram junkie,” and her current obsessions include Russian hair artist Georgiy Kot, as well as “weird marble, unlacquered brass, ice cream, pavlova, and my Ruth Bader Ginsburg candle.” Then there’s her enduring love for artist Cy Twombly: “I’ll maybe get buried with my Cy Twombly, he’s so inspiring to me.”
Inspiration can also come from being forced out of one’s comfort zone—which the move to television certainly did for Lyons. “It was definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” she says. “The best part was getting to do something completely outside of my wheelhouse at this stage in my career. You really have to give yourself over, because you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to sound stupid, and it’s really humbling to not be in control. The world of design and fashion and interiors can get a little serious, and all you ever see is the finished product. I want people to have fun and enjoy the process.”