Jenna Lyons: “Hubris Is Not Cute”

Jenna Lyons, creative director for J.Crew, recently sat down with New York Magazine to talk about her more than 20-year career with J.Crew. The author presents compliment after compliment on Jenna’s far reaching impact of Jenna’s taste on American women. However, the humble Jenna doesn’t look at it that way. “My goal is not to be a tastemaker,” she says. “It has never been that. I don’t consider myself that at all. The idea that you can make taste or influence someone’s taste is a very precarious and overly presumptuous concept. Hubris is not so cute.”

This is an extremely modest attitude considering that she has come up with such great designs that I, and I imagine I am not alone in this, literally have to run past the store’s windows sometimes with hands covering my eyes because the clothing is so enticing. Have you seen the new fall line? The woman is trying to kill me.

Mark Holgate, fashion-news director at Vogue. told NYMag that Jenna has made people be able to connect with J.Crew. Examples of this are in 2008 when she introduced the “Jenna’s Picks” feature in the catalogue and on the web site. She has given Oprah a tour of her closet, shared style tips with Lucky, Glamour, Details, and InStyle, and told her customers her favorite ice-cream sandwich, lip color, bangle, spectator pump, notebook, bikini, statement necklace, diaper bag, and distressed sneaker. “I can’t tell you the amount of women for whom Jenna invariably comes up in conversation,” said Anthony Sperduti, a co-founder of the store-cum-advertising agency Partners & Spade. “I don’t know that many designers in her role that you could say the same thing about. Not from a company of that scale.” Holgate says Lyons, through these exercises, has made J.Crew seem “tangible and touchable” for the average shopper.

As opposed to Ralph Lauren or Brooks Brothers, J.Crew does seem attainable. Lyons said even back in 1990 when she first joined the company, that was the brand message that she interpreted. “J.Crew was the life that you could have. It was about hanging out. There was no price of entry. You might have a house in Maine on the beach, but you didn’t have a yacht and twelve horses.”

And Jenna has only helped build out the message in her role as Chief Creative Officer. She has doubled the sales of J.Crew in the last seven years and helped it become a company valued annually at approximately $1.7 billion.“Look, it’s not a hard thing to be a tasteful designer and cater to a small community,” Sperduti says. “That’s an easy thing. For someone to bring a level of taste—to introduce large portions of our country to newer things, interesting notions—that’s the challenge. And she’s done that impeccably well.” Basically Jenna has made great fashion accessible to the masses and for that we (and me especially, a proud J.Crew-aholic) thank her.

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