Jenna Lyons was, in the early 2000s and 2010s, a force in fashion to be reckoned with, best known for taking J.Crew’s trademark ultra-preppy style and spicing it up with her love of mixed textures and prints. She reimagined the store’s style almost entirely — preppy but peppy, conservative with an edge. Ever wonder why there is so much bedazzling done on women’s workwear? Thank Jenna Lyons, the innovator behind the shockingly persistent trend.
Lyons wasn’t just a mass market phenomenon. Under her direction, the J.Crew label became a magnet for fashion influencers — most notably, First Lady Michelle Obama, who wore J.Crew gloves to the inauguration and dressed both of the first daughters in outfits from J.Crew’s children’s line, Crewcuts. The New York Times declared Jenna Lyons “the woman who dresses America” in 2013, the same year she was named to Time’s 100 Most Influential list.
Gravity has a way of catching up with everyone, though, and after 25 years at J.Crew, as the 2010s wore on, Lyons’ star began to dim. Trendy hunters began to move on J.Crew, more interested in up-and-coming fast fashion and low cost brands, like H&M and Zara. Long time J.Crew devotees wanted less cutting edge in their look, and more old school prep. As sales began to slip, J.Crew announced a return to the iconic classics, which might have helped, but clothing quality and fit issues began to surface. Consumers began to wonder if paying J.Crew prices made sense when its quality was not noticeably better than its cheaper counterparts in the market.
By 2017, it was all over. After four consecutive years of declining sales, Jenna Lyons stepped down, and as of late, J.Crew has declared it is going down a new “something for everybody” path that will mix the conservative classics with fashion forward looks, along with a series of “American casual” looks influenced by the brand’s highly popular Madewell line.
“You can’t be one price. You can’t be one aesthetic. You can’t be one fit,” Brett said, of the brand’s newly developed, more expansive purview,” J.Crew’s CEO Jim Brett said in an interview.
J.Crew is not the only player working on a come back these days. Like her former bosses, Lyons is also getting ready to jump back onto to the scene, albeit in a very different capacity.
Lyons announced earlier this week, care of Women’s Wear Daily, that she is launching a lifestyle brand early next year, having formed a partnership with Turner Entertainment to build an omnichannel lifestyle brand that marries content and commerce in a weekly unscripted lifestyle series. The new venture will also include a daily curated social and direct-to-consumer platform, which will launch in 2019.
“I don’t know if I want the intensity of fashion’s speed now,” Lyons noted in a February interview, about nine months after leaving J.Crew. “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.”
What the forthcoming partnership with Turner will look like is still a bit up in the air, beyond the vague description already offered. According to Lyons, her forthcoming multimedia, multichannel brand will be dedicated to finding ways to blend style and affordability, as well as present viewers with what she called “a nearly complete world,” with a cohesive vision of home interiors, fashion and beauty, and offer those who visit a toolbox so they can be the master’s of their own fashion destiny.
“We want to try something new,” Lyons said. “I want to build a story-driven, comprehensive resource for anyone to satisfy their personal style and help them make aesthetic choices. We’ll bring that together with real-time entertainment. With the team at Turner, I’ve found an inspiring and open-minded approach to thinking about commerce across multiple platforms.”
Inspiring, but still a challenging approach, as mixing content and commerce is a popular, but not necessarily easy thing to do in a world where Lyons’ brand will now have to compete with traditional home shopping and an army of Instagam influencers with millions of followers of their own. Although, Lyons is a big name in fashion, a respected authority in the style world, and has her own pre-loaded fan base.
Lyons may have somewhat better odds than most, but there’s still a challenging road ahead of her. The world of multimedia styles and fashion gurus is already crowded, and while specific are still thin, many have compared Lyons forthcoming effort to a larger and more ambitious version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop.
But, Lyons is something of an original in a crowded field. The proof, of course, will be in the offering, and whether Lyons can actually make her comeback or not will depend heavily on the stickiness of the experience offered.
Given her track record, though, Lyons’ endeavor will be worth watching.