On Jenna Lyons, Having Taste, and Creative Progress

Jenna Lyons

There are people in life who stand out from the pack. Their view point unique, their self-confidence seemingly unwavering, and through personal style, creative projects, or any number of aspects of self-expression, they seem extraordinary. Think Virgil Abloh, Miuccia Prada, or Hayao Miyazaki, each marching to the beat of their own drum.

What made me start thinking about this was a piece by Rachel Tashjian for the Washing Post titled, Whatever happened to having taste? In it, she speaks to the second (perhaps third?) coming of Jenna Lyons, famously know for her time as the womenswear designer for J.Crew, and one of the new additions to The Real Housewives of New York. To succinctly sum up the piece, she talks about how Lyons simply has taste, especially in contrast to her RHONY costars who primarily have, well, money. She then dives into our experiences of the last 20 years or so, delving into fashion blogging, and how it evolved and gave rise to “influencers,” which steadily gave rise to capitalizing taste. Folks started to realize they could make money showing off their taste, until the whole thing became watered down, and now 99% of it is performing for cash doled out by brands.

Jenna Lyons

I love talking about this topic. Being authentically creative, like really standing out, is a rough game to play. In 2013, Time magazine named Jenna Lyons one of the most influential people in the world, yet by the end of 2014, Racked wrote a piece titled Is the Cult of Jenna Lyons Eclipsing J.Crew? The churn with which we try to deem something cool or not cool is vicious at this point. Which is why leaning into trends never really works out for anyone. Though being able to discern what is a trend and what is something interesting and new also leads back to having taste, as we recently experienced with SubwaySessions and her head-turning looks.

This applies to all matter of creative endeavors. Being able to take risks, do something unlike others in your industry, having the charisma and gall to make outlandish things. That’s hard for most people. I look to Jenna Lyons as a personal inspiration. I don’t necessarily want to dress like her, per se. What I want is to have an eclectic wardrobe of stylish garments, putting together eye-catching ensembles, and have the confidence that she emanates whenever you see her. Beyond that, how can I carry that same weight in my design work? With my writing? Hell, how do I bring that power into the way I carry myself?

I believe in myself and my personal taste, which was a huge part of why I started The Fox Is Black again. Social media can be such a vacuum of taste. Curating style guides from brands from the mid-century, runway shows from the 90’s, photo galleries of brutalist homes. It’s simply saying, “HERE ARE THINGS” without any context, nor personal view, of “here is why this is important to me.” Superficiality curated. I am certainly guilty of this, and that’s why I’m trying to do more with this space, ensuring I provide more of the why to my writing. Because, in my opinion, good taste needs a point of view. In Tashjian’s piece on taste, she speaks with Leandra Medine, well-known for her blog Man Repeller, who’s quote I agree with wholly:

“I respect my taste,” Medine says. “My loyalty through all of this has to be to creative progress. And the way to stay close to creative progress is to also stay close to your taste.”