The Lyons eye helps shape J.Crew’s look

Lead­ing lady has made the quirky ac­ces­si­ble

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Week­end Life - LISA ARMSTRONG

It’s all very well steer­ing an in­ter­na­tional fash­ion chain by us­ing your per­sonal es­thetic as a com­pass and be­ing cited as one of the world’s most influentia­l tastemak­ers. But it was when Jenna Lyons be­gan see­ing pic­tures of her friend’s chil­dren dressed up as her for Hal­loween that she knew her style had be­come part of pop­u­lar cul­ture.

The cre­ative direc­tor and pres­i­dent of J.Crew does have a dis­tinc­tive look: boy meets girlie, with those su­per­size-me spec­ta­cles that have now be­come so main­stream she thinks she may have to re­think that de­tail. Not that she’s pre­cious about her style.

“I’m deeply flat­tered if any­one wants to ref­er­ence it. It’s not as if I haven’t ref­er­enced oth­ers. We’re all com­pos­ites, I think.”

And not be­cause she likes to think too much about her style, “be­cause when I do, I tend to over-think. That’s when I make mis­takes.”

The Hal­loween honour is quite mis­lead­ing, ac­tu­ally. There’s noth­ing camp about the es­sen­tials of Lyons’s look — trousers (“I’m six feet — I don’t look good in skirts”), blaz­ers, boyfriend cardi­gans and a killer heel. True to form, when we meet, she’s in Prince of Wales trousers (nabbed from J.Crew’s menswear depart­ment, taken in and up so that they show plenty of bare an­kle), a jew­elled but­toned-up shirt, a ginger-coloured menswear cardi­gan and gor­geous strappy heels with per­fo­rated leather de­tail­ing, a tro­phy from a re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion J.Crew did with Bri­tish shoe de­signer Sophia Webster.

It sounds as though she al­ways dressed in a ver­sion of this, although she claims that grow­ing up in a sleepy sub­urb of Los Angeles in the late ’70s de­prived her of any mean­ing­ful fash­ion men­tors.

“There was noth­ing like the aware­ness or in­ter­est in style that there is now. By the time I was a stu­dent my look was very much, ‘broke girl only just man­ag­ing to make the rent and largely wear­ing sweats.’ ”

That was prob­a­bly a pos­i­tive. It meant she had to fig­ure out what suited her for her­self — not easy when you’re boy height.

But by her teens she’d learned to shop in the boys depart­ment and get ev­ery­thing taken in. So when her preppy grand­mother started send­ing her clothes from the East Coast, she was al­ready “do­ing that boy-girl-surfer thing.”

There would be Brooks Broth­ers blaz­ers, mixed with short pleated skirts and surfer shorts. These days she’s more likely to ex­press that fu­sion by wear­ing an ul­tra­glam­orous feath­ered and beaded skirt with a man’s cash­mere V-neck to a red-carpet event.

But by and large, the Lyons Look has al­ways been the same equa­tion, with dif­fer­ent num­bers. It’s the for­mula of J.Crew’s phe­nom­e­nal ap­peal across classes and na­tion­al­i­ties: a lit­tle bit vin­tage, a lit­tle print, lots of lay­ers and a ton of as­pi­ra­tion.

Even when J.Crew was still pri­mar­ily a pur­veyor of chi­nos, it ap­pealed to Lyons be­cause, she says, “It al­ways had high pro­duc­tion values. It would shoot its cat­a­logue us­ing Christy Turling­ton, and although it looked very dif­fer­ent from the way it does now, it didn’t com­pro­mise.”

In those days, it was run by Emily Ci­nader, whose fa­ther owned it. Ci­nader was model-gor­geous, tal­ented and abra­sive. Lyons shares the first two qual­i­ties, but is softly spo­ken. Mostly she says she doesn’t have to talk that much at work be­cause the team has learned to speak the same lan­guage.

She joined J.Crew more than two decades ago af­ter a stint at Donna Karan, when she was barely out of New York’s Parsons School of De­sign. At J.Crew, she was “as­sis­tant to the as­sis­tant to the per­son in charge of rugby shirts … I ag­o­nized over those stripes,” she laughs.

She’d worked her way up to head of wom­enswear by the time Mickey Drexler ar­rived as CEO. Drexler had worked mir­a­cles at Gap in the ’90s and sub­se­quently did the same at J.Crew, su­per­charg­ing Lyons’s ca­reer in the process.

“The amaz­ing thing about work­ing with Mickey was see­ing how lit­tle changes he ef­fected could make a huge dif­fer­ence,” she says. “For in­stance, he told the de­sign team that we shouldn’t lis­ten to the buy­ers when they told us we had to fill cer­tain price cat­e­gories or tried to in­flu­ence how some­thing should look. He told us to just de­sign the best prod­uct we could and they’d work out the pric­ing.”

J.Crew is any­thing but cheap, but it is in­ter­est­ing, eclec­tic and although most of it sells for less than de­signer prices, you rarely feel you’re slum­ming it. Like Lyons’s own style, Crew’s recipe is trend con­scious rather than trend fo­cused.

Ul­ti­mately it’s the Lyons eye that makes the dif­fer­ence. She can spot a phoney or ba­nal de­tail at 50 paces. That’s in­nate. What’s universal is the way she’s made the quirky ac­ces­si­ble. That’s more than in­nate. That’s clever.

Getty Im­ages/Files

Jenna Lyons, cre­ative direc­tor and head of J.Crew and its pub­lic face, ex­em­pli­fies the com­pany’s dis­tinc­tive es­thetic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.