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Jenna Lyons is leaving J. Crew after more than two decades with the company, Business of Fashion reported Monday.
Lyons, who joined the company in 1990 and became creative director in 2008, is often credited with much of the retailer’s early success.
She became the face of the company and was known for her signature geek-chic look, epitomized by her wide-rimmed black glasses. Much of the brand’s style mirrored her personal look.
“It has been beyond my wildest dreams to work with such an amazing team of people at such an incredible brand and alongside Mickey – one of retail’s most talented visionaries,” Lyons said in a statement given to Business of Fashion. “I am excited about the next chapter for J.Crew as well as the opportunity for other creative leaders within the organisation to step up and take on new responsibilities. Having spent the better part of my life with J.Crew, I feel an immense pride and love for everyone at the company,” she said.
In 2011, New York Magazine described Lyons’ style as “nuanced, personal, layered, a little vintage.”
Lyons beat the odds; she was not traditionally beautiful growing up, nor did she have an easy childhood.
She has openly revealed that she struggled with a genetic disease called incontinentia pigment, which left her with bald spots and requiring dentures due to malformed teeth.
She told Fast Company she was bullied mercilessly as a child. “It’s amazing how cruel kids can be and super judgmental and really just downright mean,” she said to the publication.
“I searched for ways to make things more beautiful and surrounded myself with beautiful things because I didn’t feel that in myself,” she said to Fast Company. This ultimately led to drawing – and fashion.
“I felt a huge drive to make clothes that everybody could have because I felt ostracized by that world of beauty and fashion. I never thought I would have a part in it. Never in a million years,” she said to Fast Company.
Lyons told Fast Company that after she graduated Parsons School of Design in 1990, she was an “assistant to an assistant to someone else’s assistant,” at J. Crew, starting out in the men’s department.
Lyons stayed on with the brand for years. But 2002 proved to be a rough year for the preppy brand, one marred by poor financials.
“We were lost soldiers – working away, following orders,” Lyons told New York Magazine in 2011. “I was shell-shocked and burned from what was going on. Fried.” Yet she stayed on board.
And then retail legend Mickey Drexler arrived.
- Seth Wenig/AP
Drexler, who is known as the “the merchant prince,” has been held responsible for transforming Ann Taylor and Gap.
Together, he and Lyons would shape J. Crew for the better.
“We had a lot of things to fix – financially, aesthetically, we needed an overhaul,” Lyons told The Guardian in 2012.
Soon, the company was thriving once again.
Page Six reported that J. Crew had asked Lyons to cut down her self-promotion, attributing low sales to her celebrity status.
A J. Crew spokesperson told the website that “this [was] completely inaccurate and couldn’t be farther from reality.”
But customers criticized Lyons for J. Crew’s unaffordable products.
In 2015, writer Tricia Louvar wrote an open letter to Lyons on The Hairpin, prefacing it with “you are pretty dope,” but stating that all dopeness aside, the clothes J. Crew was selling were unaffordable and not practical. “If only I, an ordinary mother on a modest income, could afford to wear a $400 cashmere skirt, silk barely-there blouse and belt to a one-time business-casual event,” she wrote.
They also complained about ill-fitting cashmere sweaters and allegedly poor quality.
Mallory Schlossberg contributed to a previous version of this article.