The life and career of Jenna Lyons, Real Housewife and former J. Crew executive
Jenna Lyons began her career at J.Crew in 1990 and climbed the ranks to become creative director.
Lyons’ rare medical condition inspired her to make a natural-looking line of fake lashes.
Lyons is the first openly gay woman to star on Real Housewives of New York.
Jenna Lyons is known for her signature thick-rim glasses, red lipstick, and merging masculine and feminine styles.
The fashion designer and executive played a major role in reviving the preppy apparel brand J.Crew in the 2010s. She worked for the brand for 26 years, climbing the ranks to become creative director and president. She was a style icon in her own right and helped J. Crew become a multi-billion dollar business.
At first, fashion was a “pipe dream,” she wrote in a 2015 edition of Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny Letter. Lyons studied magazines like Vogue and Mademoiselle, then learned to sew in a home economics class. The skill helped her gain confidence as she made her own clothing to fit her body — some of the styles won approval from her classmates.
Lyons studied fine arts at Parsons New School of Design and interned for Donna Karan, according to Business of Fashion.
She started working at J. Crew in 1990
After graduating from Parsons, Lyons became an assistant menswear designer at J. Crew. She was eventually promoted to vice president of women’s design. In 2002, Lyons married artist Vincent Mazeau.
At the time, J. Crew was known as a preppy catalog brand that sold rugby shirts and khakis. The company had been struggling for years when veteran fashion executive Mickey Drexler became J. Crew’s CEO in 2003. He was credited with turning around Gap and Ann Taylor.
Following J. Crew’s successful IPO, Lyons became creative director in 2008
J. Crew went public in 2006 and the $376 million IPO was seen as the most successful in retail history. Two years later, Drexler appointed Lyons as the creative director of the brand.
Lyons became a style icon, known for her bold fashion sense
In a risky marketing move, J. Crew positioned Lyons as the face of the brand. Not only was she in charge of the brand’s fashion decisions, but she also embodied the brand at press events and on red carpets.
Lyons became known for her “geek chic” aesthetic, mixing feminine, frilly pieces with casual American classics. She regularly paired nautical stripes with other patterns and often left her shirts unbuttoned underneath polished suits. At the 2012 Met Gala, she wore a formal pink silk skirt with a denim jacket.
Lyons became president and helped J. Crew charter its rise
Lyons’ bold style blended into J. Crew’s collections, remixing the brand’s preppy image with taffeta, statement jewelry, feathers, sequins, bright colors, metallics, and florals.
In 2010, Drexler appointed Lyons president of J. Crew. Under their leadership, the brand became known for its accessible approach to high fashion and grew into a multi-billion dollar business.
She was dubbed the ‘woman who dresses America’
By the late 2000s, J. Crew amassed an A-list following among celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow, First Lady Michelle Obama, British royal Kate Middleton, and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. This further cemented Lyons’ influence and J. Crew’s place in fashion history.
A New York Times article named Lyons the “woman who dresses America.” Reflecting on the company’s glory days, current J. Crew CEO Libby Wadle told the publication that the brand “owned” up to 90% of its core customer’s wardrobe.
In 2010, J. Crew had its first runway show at New York Fashion Week.
Sometimes, her creative moves were controversial
In2011, a J. Crew ad included an image of Lyons painting her 5-year-old son’s toenails pink. The shade was his favorite color, Lyons said in a quote that accompanied the photo. The move received backlash from conservative groups who said the move homogenized gender identity, CBS reported. Others said the criticism was unwarranted.
As styles changed and a recession loomed, Lyons’ influence waned
Many retailers struggled to keep up sales during the Great Recession. By 2011, J. Crew’s performance began to slump and the company once again became a private company in a $3 billion leveraged buyout.
J. Crew lost touch with its customers who criticized the brand for making its prices too expensive and over-styling its clothing.
Lyons and Mazeau divorced in 2011. Shortly after, The Post published an article saying Lyons was in a relationship with jewelry designer Courtney Crangi. Years later, Lyons explained that she had still been in the process of coming out at the time.
“I hadn’t told my mother, I hadn’t told any of my friends, really,” Lyons told The Cut. “I hadn’t told my ex-husband. I had a child.”
“This entire apartment was the first time in my life that I got to do exactly what I wanted,” Lyons told Vogue in a recent video tour of her home. “I’d always been working with constraints, whether it be my job or even my own personal situation.”
J. Crew’s sales continued to plummet
By 2015, J. Crew faced a major sales slump which at first, Drexler blamed on ill-fitting sweaters. “We’ve become a T-shirt destination,” he told The Post.
“It’s been a great run. There’s a lot of mutual respect between Jenna and me,” Drexler told Business of Fashion.
J.Crew replaced Lyons with Somsack Sikhounmong, who was previously the company’s head of design.
Lyons said she had a difficult year after she left J.Crew
Lyons’ departure from J.Crew was the beginning of a very difficult year for her. She struggled with the transition from an action-packed schedule to an empty calendar.
“No one was calling and no one was getting lunch with me and no one was inviting me anywhere,” Lyons told Page Six in 2020. Lyons said she had to come to terms with the fact that she wasn’t getting invited out because of who she was, but because of her former role as J.Crew’s president.
In 2020, Max launched ‘Stylish with Jenna Lyons’
After Lyons left J.Crew, she began to try new avenues. In 2020, Jenna Lyons launched a series with HBO Max called Stylish with Jenna Lyons. This series focuses on fashion, interior design, photography, houseplants and beauty. The series, meant to replicate a fashion blog in a TV format, has one season and eight episodes.
Lyons’ rare condition inspired her to create a natural-looking line of false lashes
In 2020, the former J.Crew president also launched LoveSeen alongside Troi Ollivierre, a former J.Crew makeup artist. Due to Lyons’ condition, icontinentia pigmenti, she struggled to grow hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. In a video on LoveSeen’s website, she explains that she has three eyelashes on one eye and seven “reluctant” lashes on the other.
LoveSeen is a beauty brand that specializes in natural-looking lashes. The lashes are cruelty-free, plastic-free, and vegan. They come in ten styles and are meant to flatter different eye shapes and skin tones, according to Harper’s Bazaar.
“I couldn’t find what I wanted so I created a line of lashes that aren’t as over-the-top,” Lyons told The View in July.
Lyons confirmed her relationship with photographer Cass Bird in June
In June, Lyons confirmed was in a relationship with photographer Cass Bird, according to The New York Times. Just months later, Lyons was wearing a ring on her ring finger in an Instagram post sparking engagement rumors.
But an anonymous source squashed the rumor and told People Lyons had owned that ring for a long time.
The couple still regularly appear on each other’s Instagram pages, and Lyons confirmed they are still together although she prefers to keep the relationship private.
Lyons herself, however, is very much in the public eye. She joined the cast of Real Housewives of New York, after joking about joining the show in an Instagram story, The New York Times wrote.
Lyons joins the cast of RHONY, the first openly gay woman to do so
Lyons joined the Real Housewives of New York for season 14, which premiered earlier this year. At 55, Lyons is the oldest housewife on the RHONY, according to Time Magazine. She is also the first openly gay woman to star in the series, though she plans to keep her relationship with Bird private and off the show.
Her RHONY red carpet looks have garnered interest. She showed up to the premiere and the show reunion wearing jeans, a contrast to the glamorous dresses worn by her costars. Some supported the standout look while others criticized it, she told Today.
Plenty of other people were doing the “glam” look and “I can do my own thing,” she said.
Lyons told Today that she was motivated to join the show in order to promote her business.
More recently, Lyons has been branching away from fashion and entertainment.
In late November, private equity banking company Blackstone hired Lyons to serve as executive creative director of FundamentalCo, a brand agency, Bloomberg wrote.