Can the woman who defined a large portion of America’s style during the late ’00s and early ’10s pull off the same feat again? Jenna Lyons, the former president and creative director of J.Crew, announced via Womenswear Daily that she is launching a lifestyle brand early next year. In the same way that Lyons taught women to mix over-the-top costume jewelry with T-shirts and wear bright coral lipstick with everything, this forthcoming platform promises, according to WWD, to “give consumers the necessary tools to create their own style.”
It remains unclear what exactly Lyons’s media empire, formed in conjunction with Turner Entertainment, will look like. WWD says it will be “an omnichannel lifestyle brand that marries content and commerce in a weekly unscripted lifestyle series and a daily curated social and direct-to-consumer platform launching in 2019.” If you’re having trouble parsing that, you’re not alone.
In short, Lyons will be making content and selling products across interiors, fashion, and beauty, fulfilling the “lifestyle brand” mission of offering shoppers a beautiful, nearly complete world in which to exist.
Things are different this time around, however. Mixing content and commerce is an enticing if tricky proposition in 2018. Lyons is a titan and a true authority in the style world, with a built-in fan base. But with all the TV in the world to watch, a million Instagram stories to mindlessly swipe through, and a 24/7 onslaught of news to read, standing out from the deafening chaos isn’t easy. Does the world need more stuff to consume?
Jenna Lyons was a force to be reckoned with at J.Crew
It’s unusual for shoppers to have a close affinity for the designers behind mall brands. Certain millennial women possess a fierce nostalgia for Delia’s, but could any of us say who was running the show there? Jenna Lyons and J.Crew were the exception.
Though Lyons entered the public eye as J.Crew’s creative lead in the late ’00s, she had been with the company for 26 years by the end of her tenure. (She started at J.Crew in the men’s department just after graduating from Parsons.) Lyons was the vice president of women’s design when former CEO Mickey Drexler — the so-called “merchant prince” who reinvented Gap during the ’90s — joined the company in 2003, and in 2008, she became creative director of the brand. In 2011, she added J.Crew president to her résumé.
Lyons was the subject of magazine profiles and a frequent flyer at the Met Gala, fashion’s biggest event of the year, and her presence is inextricable from J.Crew’s popularity during this era. She took Girls executive producers Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner as her dates to the Met Gala in 2016 — both of them dressed as Lyons lookalikes in tuxedos, slicked-back hair, and heavy glasses — and she made a cameo on Girls as a GQ editor.
With her zeal for mixing prints and textures, the J.Crew she presented was an unexpected, fashion-forward mashup of the brand’s preppy classics. Famously, Lyons encouraged American women to wear sequins during the day, perhaps paired with low-key chambray — a divisive point for some shoppers but a defining trait of Lyons’s exuberant style. Even office wear wasn’t immune: Glimmering spangles covered pencil skirts and blazers alike.
While J.Crew’s star rose within the fashion establishment, it found support from a host of Very Important People, chief among them Michelle Obama. At President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the first lady wore a pair of green J.Crew gloves, while their daughters Sasha and Malia wore outfits from J.Crew’s children’s line, Crewcuts. The New York Times dubbed Lyons “the woman who dresses America” in 2013, the same year she was named to Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential list.
But despite Lyons’s outsize influence on American fashion, her reign at J.Crew couldn’t last. Longtime shoppers were leaning away from her daring styling, craving the preppy staples they knew and loved; as a result, Drexler told investors in 2015 that J.Crew would be refocusing on its “iconic classics.” On top of that, J.Crew had stumbled with garment quality issues and “inconsistent sizing,” further alienating customers. For four years straight, its sales plummeted. They didn’t stop falling until very recently.
This is how Lyons’s time at J.Crew ended. In April 2017, she stepped down from her role. Drexler did the same not long after.
Things at the brand look rather different today. This fall, with a new CEO in place, J.Crew relaunched with the intention of offering something for every kind of customer and style. Its proposition is more accessible than before, both lower in price and absent from the fashion week calendar. In other words, J.Crew is now a far cry from the monolithic vision of the Lyons era.
But can she win at content?
When J.Crew announced Lyons’s departure in 2017, it didn’t say where she’d be going next, only that she would stay on through the end of the year as a creative adviser. One might have speculated that she’d start her own clothing line, because while her vision didn’t pan out for J.Crew’s shoppers in the long run, she certainly had a contingent of ardent fans. But in a February interview with WWD, Lyons said, “I don’t think my own brand is in the cards. If I were going to get back into fashion, I’d do it in a different way.”
Instead, Lyons is testing her mettle in the turbulent world of media.
A Lyons lifestyle brand that runs the gamut from home decor to fashion and beauty makes perfect sense. We know full well that she has a clear, decisive outlook on fashion and beauty (poppy red and coral lipstick, again, being a key part of the Lyons look at J.Crew). Lyons’s home in New York City, which has been covered repeatedly by the press, is a knockout, both casual and impossibly luxurious.
Perhaps Lyons will provide us with an alternative to Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness-oriented Goop, which paved the way for blending content and shopping. And not that the lifestyle world is a zero-sum game, but here’s one thing Lyons has that Paltrow doesn’t: accessibility. As the Times wrote in 2013, “Ms. Lyons is down-to-earth, approachable and almost comically self-effacing. ... She takes chances with different looks (though almost everything she wears is from J. Crew). She has fun getting dressed. She makes mistakes and laughs at herself.”
And isn’t that how we all want to be seen?
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