For years, J.Crew was known as the company that produced the affordably priced clothes that everyone coveted, but only Americans could actually buy. Thanks to first lady Michelle Obama, though, the rest of the world was introduced to the brand's colorful, upbeat cardigans and pencil skirts that sat just to the left of classic — they were trend-conscious enough without the risk of being out of style six months later. And then there's Jenna Lyons, the president and executive creative director of J.Crew, whose fashion celebrity seems to grow by the day. Her offbeat personal style and knack for seamlessly mixing high and low has become inextricably linked with the brand, not to mention a fashion blogger obsession. We talk to Lyons about the company's recent decision to go global (they now ship to 107 countries) after only being available in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.
What makes now the right time to expand internationally?
We were finding that a lot of customers were calling our New York store and asking for things to be shipped overseas. We had the U.S. expansion that we were working on and we were in the process of launching a few really big projects that we needed to have all hands on deck for first. We wanted to do it right.
The brand is much more popular with fashion insiders than it was years ago. For example, Manolo Blahnik collaborated with you on your fall '12 show and you're now selling Comme des Garcons Play. What led to the change?
We've really tried to develop a clear visual over the last five years that's a tad bit more fashion. We can take someone like Fenton-Fallon and put her in our catalog and introduce her brand to this massive audience. Working with the CFDA has also been a big help. People began to have a different trust level with us. People [in fashion] began to view us as being on the inside rather than outside.
Many people associate the look of J.Crew with you. Do you feel an increasing pressure to get dressed in the morning?
It's funny because I was in the airport in London last week and this woman came up to me and said, 'Excuse me, are you Jenna Lyons?' And it was so great to have this direct connection with a new audience. But if anything, I feel an interesting amount of pressure to not do anything bizarre in public now. But getting dressed? Not so much that part.
Your fall '12 show famously featured a model who could be your twin. Did you guys seek her out?
It's funny because she was being used for Madewell and for one shoot they put glasses on her. The person doing the casting came up to me and said, 'You know this girl looks like you.' But I don't think so. The next day a blog asked, 'Is Jenna Lyons trying to make Madewell like herself?' Not in a million years would I do that! Can you imagine the narcissism? Plus, she's like 20 years younger than I am. But we brought her in for the J.Crew show because we like her. She's a smart girl.
Four J.Crew looks that Jenna Lyons will be living in this spring.
Leather placket tunic, $275; all looks available at www.jcrew.com
Silk wool high-waisted pant, $258
Boy shirt, $70
Café Capri pant in Kerchief Paisley, $495