Jenna Lyons On NYC Fashion In The 90s, Her New TV Show, And Dressing To Impress

by Freya Drohan

Jenna Lyons is back in the game! The instantly-recognizable tastemaker is starring in a new HBO Max series called Stylish with Jenna Lyons. While the former president of J.Crew—once deemed “the woman who dresses America”—is the perfect protagonist for a show that’s focused on fashion and all things chic, Lyons admits that appearing on TV was never on her radar. Luckily for us, this docu-style format changed her mind. We caught up with the inimitable fashionable star to hear what’s in store for audiences. 

Is TV something you always wanted to do?
Never. No. Not Ever. I had zero desires nor inclinations. It just kind of happened!

What TV personalities are your all-time favorite?
Andy Cohen, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg, Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Alec Baldwin, Fred Armison, Nasim Pedrad, and Niecy Nash.

If you had to compare Stylish with Jenna Lyons to a hybrid of other TV shows, what would it be?
Martha Stewart meets QVC meets Move That Bus.

Tell us about some of the design projects you tackle in the show.
There’s the renovation of a friend’s Brooklyn brownstone, a makeover for two women who had sort of lost their fashion way, our interpretation of dressing up for date night, and the redo of my own upstate home. Each of them are personal and challenging in their own way. Some of the challenges were mine, some were the associates’. We share the good stuff and the bad.

The show sees people vying for a position on your team—what characteristics do you usually look for in an employee?
I would say the most important characteristic that you just can’t train is curiosity and a self-propelled desire to do good work.

We’re curious about what you think: is what someone wears to an interview really what makes or breaks a first impression with a prospective boss?
There’s no question that one’s choices for a first interview is revealing. It shows how much you care, how well you understand the brand itself, and what makes you feel confident.

What’s your own go-to fashion piece if you have to make a big impression?
I think knowing your audience is important. I don’t have one single thing. It depends on who I’m making an impression for. If I’m going to be on stage, I try to find something that feels somewhat sparkly or radiating. Being on stage is a very particular form of engagement, whereas being on camera or a Zoom call, you might want something more subdued or with more interest around your face. If you’re going to be in a magazine or it’s a still a moment of some sort, you might want it to be more timeless as the moment will live forever. It really depends on the outlet and the audience.

(courtesy of HBO Max)

You’re known around the world for your personal style. At what age do you think you discovered your flair for fashion? Were you always good at putting outfits together as a kid?
I was not so good as a kid or teen, I actually struggled a lot with clothes. I was six feet tall at a very young age and not always able to find things that worked for me. I also didn’t have the option to shop in vintage stores as everything was just too small. I really struggled when I was young. Most of the images that have circulated of me come from fashion shows, where I knew I would be photographed, so I had a chance to pull myself together. I don’t always look pulled together, that’s for shit sure!

You joined J.Crew back in 1990, after going to Parsons. What was the most exciting thing about being in fashion in NYC back then?
New York City was a different place. It was full of electricity and grit and discovery. When I went to Parsons, the critics were Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, Marc Jacobs, and Calvin Klein. It was really at the height of American fashion. It was exhilarating and intimidating and so inspiring.

How do you feel about the fashion world in 2020; what’s making you hopeful?
I would say my favorite shift in fashion is the emergence of Instagram shopping. What I love about it is that I can find things from people in Amsterdam and Tokyo and faraway places I might never have had the opportunity to see. Young brands and young designers are able to share their work and have a tremendous reach. That feels really new and exciting and it seems to be presenting a seismic shift in the industry.

(courtesy of HBO Max)

Can you let us in on any fun upcoming projects?
I am in the process of developing a hotel in the Bahamas with a team of incredibly talented people. My friend Liz Lambert, Larry McGuire, and an architectural team of Lake Flato. And a landscape designer whose name, believe it or not, is Raymond Jungles!

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