Jenna Lyons highly recommends boredom. After more than a quarter century at J. Crew, the brand’s iconoclastic President and Creative Director — you probably know her signature thick-framed glasses and drum-tight side-part well — left in 2017. And despite an initial compulsion to stay busy, Lyons was deliberately unproductive following her headline-making exit from the job that had come to define her (more likely, it was also the other way around).
“I remember this pressure when I was leaving the company … like ‘I should learn how to cook, I should learn ceramics, I should take tango lessons,’” Lyons tells R29’s co-founder and global editor-in-chief Christene Barberich in the season three premiere episode of UnStyled (live today). “I realized that I didn’t have to. Maybe I could be bored. And I’ve never felt so refreshed and nourished, and so clear in my head about what I want, what I don’t want. I’ve spent a lot of time on my couch, and I don’t feel bad about it.”
That ultra-relaxed attitude and vibe extended to her much-admired and emulated personal wardrobe, too. “I will literally wear the same thing for a whole week,” says the woman whose designs have outfitted millions of women, including former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Lyons worked at J. Crew for an impressive 27 years, beginning as an assistant menswear designer, back when the brand was a small Mom-and-Pop outfit looking to reinvent itself. By the time of her exit, J. Crew had been through multiple reinventions and gone global. Lyons, meanwhile, had become a bonafide celebrity in her own right, an influencer in the pre-Instagram sense of the word, whose bombastic Met Gala looks (a denim jacket! A cashmere sweater!) made news on their own. Her personal life, too, garnered headlines: From her 2011 divorce from husband Vincent Manzeau to her more recent split with jewelry executive Courtney Crangi. Amid all this flux, a pause and a retreat from public life became crucial as Lyons contemplated the next chapter — or chapters, as the case may be.
“I’ve never had time,” Lyons shares on UnStyled. “I literally left college and went straight into working,” Nonstop.
These days, truth be told, she’s not just hanging out on her sofa wearing the same outfit all week long. Lyons is heading back toward, well, stuff. But her new, top-secret project is heavily invested in the old. In fact, there might even be two top-secret projects in the works.
“One of the things I’m doing, which I shouldn’t probably talk about too much but,” she says, “is working on something where the materials are such that [they are in] fashion — the best things are often things that get better with age. If you think of a beautiful leather belt or leather jacket, or a perfect pair of jeans or a white shirt with a collar and cuff that are soft and beginning to fray — those things, I find so incredibly beautiful and far more elegant than anything pristine and new.”
You can reconnect with Lyons and hear everything this style maverick has to say in her frank, funny, and surprising UnStyled conversation with Christene by subscribing via Apple Podcasts today.