25 years ago, Jenna Lyons started out at J.Crew with a job so lowly her desk was in the hallway. Now dubbed the “Woman Who Dresses America” by the New York Times, she is the group president and executive creative director at J.Crew. She spoke candidly with Glamour’s editor-in-chief Cindi Leive about growing in her career and moving forward with J.Crew.
Looking back on her assistant days, Lyons said, “You learn to be a boss by being a subordinate.” Now more than ever, expecting to have everything one wants in their career very quickly is so prevalent, but it’s not realistic. “The things you don’t learn in school are the skills you probably need more,” said Lyons. “What it’s like to work with other people, how you build a team and collaborate.”
During the first 10 years with Lyons in a leadership position, revenue tripled for J.Crew. But much has been written about J.Crew’s revenue being down, specifically concerning the net income drop of eight percent in 2014. Lyons, though, tunes out the chatter with the love for what she does. “Everyone’s a critic these days,” exclaimed Lyons. “At the end of the day, I’m doing this because I enjoy it… Whether the articles are good or bad, I get to play with sequins and color and cashmere, and that’s awesome.”
And for any woman who wants to be as successful as Jenna Lyons, she says that the person who makes themselves indispensable is the person you will want to promote. “You’re not going to get there just because you think you’re ready or because someone else got promoted,” Lyons explained. To get a job working for Lyons, though, you have to be willing to do it the old-fashioned way. “Send me some of your work or a nice letter and tell me why you’re interested in working here. Don’t send me an email… You have to be old-school. Be professional.”
Read more in Glamour’s September issue, on national newsstands August 11 or at Glamour.com.
– Amy Donkel
Photos: Jenna Lyons, Michael Edwards; September Cover, Tom Munro