Jenna Lyons has become a household name for fashion devotees in the last year, as she’s helped J. Crew to become a top brand, more successful then the retailer has been prior to her being named in the position in 2008. Even better, it’s all due to her androgynous and nerdy-cool spin on the preppy clothes they’re famous for. The out lesbian has been namechecked by influencers and fashion magazines but now the business world has taken notice, as Jenna was both on Time‘s 100 Influential people list, and she covers Fast Company‘s May issue.
In Fast Company the magazine talks about Jenna’s career, which has been at J. Crew since she 1990 at age 21. “It’s taken me years to get here, and I’ve cultivated it so carefully,” she told them. “But I didn’t think it was possible. I just assumed I’d plateau and that there would be no place for me to go.” But her creativity mixed with her business savvy has seen Jenna make a slow rise to the top, and her co-workers speak well of her, saying she “knows how to make you feel appreciated.” It’s likely because she’s been “an assistant to somebody’s assistant” before she got to be president of the company.
It’s also her own personal fashion sense that has helped the brand re-emerge with its more playful edge, but Jenna talks about not feeling comfortable in her own skin until after she graduated high school, where she was bullied for being six feet tall.
“It’s amazing how cruel kids can be and superjudgmental and really just downright mean,” Lyons told Fast Company. “I searched for ways to make things more beautiful and surrounded myself with beautiful things because I didn’t feel that in myself. I felt a huge drive to make clothes that everybody could have because I felt ostracized by that world of beauty and fashion. I never thought I would have a part in it. Never in a million years.”
The article makes mention of her leaving her ex-husband for “a woman” (aka partnerCourtney Crangi) as does a Time side-piece on the designer. But the focus on Jenna lately is because of her talent in the boardroom, not the bedroom.
Designer Prabal Gurung penned the Time tribute to Jenna, writing:
…she has made fashion relatable. She’s allowed mothers and daughters to dress with the same kind of attitude. I buy J. Crew, my mom does, my sister does, my niece and nephew do. She understands our zeitgeist. Being fashionable doesn’t mean being trendy; it means having a sense of style. Jenna has made J. Crew more than a brand or a company — it’s a philosophy that believes in style.
Jenna has also been in charge while the company has featured a gay wedding on their website and an ad where Jenna’s son donned pink nail polish, both campaigns drawing negative attention from anti-equality groups. So next time you go shopping and are spending your hard earned cash at J. Crew, you can look good and feel good about it.