Jenna Lyons, president and executive creative director of J. Crew Group, and Rachel Zoe, creative director of the Rachel Zoe Collection and editor in chief of The Zoe Report, traded fashion information at #WhatSheSaid, a speaker series sponsored by W Hotels.
The discussion was moderated by Sarah Easley, cofounder and former owner of Kirna Zabete, who is now a fashion consultant. Some 130 people were in the audience Monday night at the W Hotel Times Square, including students from The New School’s Parsons School of Design and Fashion Institute of Technology. Suzanne Cohen, director of brand marketing, W Hotels Worldwide, North America at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., introduced the panelists.
Easley, who was wearing a metallic Rachel Zoe jumpsuit, said Zoe is known for her signature style “and single-handedly is responsible for all things Seventies, and you taught America how to mix moods and high-low.”
“I don’t remember a time I wasn’t at one with the jumpsuit,” said Zoe, who noted that the jumpsuit that Easley was wearing was her favorite piece in her whole collection. “It pretty much represents my spirit. That’s what I want to be all the time. I wear it to Whole Foods,” Zoe said.
Zoe said the way she likes to dress is to wear clothing that allows her to move, be able to be on the ground with her kids and not be fussy. “The Seventies I’ve always identified with the most. I may or may not have been born in the Seventies,” she said. “Stevie Nicks is my holy grail.” She said she most identifies with the music, style, people and effortlessness of that decade.
Lyons, describing her eclectic tastes, said growing up in California she was in love with surf Ts and the brand OP, but her grandmother was obsessed with Brooks Bros. and wanted her to wear kilts and blue blazers. Basically, she said, the way she puts together her own wardrobe is something that came off the night before with something on the floor from the day before. “That’s how I put things together,” said Lyons, who was dressed in a long tulle skirt and denim jacket.
Discussing trends, Easley said right when trends start making money, you get so sick of them, such as “the off-shoulder” from last summer. “Enough of the off-shoulder from last summer,” Easley said.
Zoe agreed that “you get sick of something, but it’s really selling, and people are loving it. I think with the off-the-shoulder, I’m still very much at one with the off-the shoulder.” It’s a good way to look sexy in a subtle way, she said. “I love the cold shoulder,” Zoe said. She said it’s about making it look fresh.
Lyons, who has spent 26 years at J. Crew, said she’s worn a denim jacket for 26 years and it’s about making it look fresh. “It’s about finding ways to reinvent it and restyle it,” she said.
Zoe said she never follows trends and never tries to create trends. “I think style has very few rules. You make it your own.” She said 20 years ago you were told to “wear this, or don’t wear that,” and “this is out, and this is in.” But those rules don’t apply anymore, she said.
Discussing failures or mistakes they’ve made in business, Easley recalled in 2012 when she was running Kirna Zabete, she designed a collection for Target. (She has since sold her stake to her former business partner.) Since there were no Targets in Manhattan, she decided to put it out in her own expensive store. It became the worst season in the history of her business because people were buying her $49.99 trenches and snubbing the store’s designer apparel. “Proenza bombed, Valentino bombed, Balenciaga bombed,” she said. “My little ego trip on my Target collection was very expensive,” she said.
Lyons said she’s made plenty of mistakes. As she’s become more senior in her job, she’s wanted to keep her team happy. “You care what people think and I’ve made mistakes of listening to some people,” and it led the brand off-track and hurt the business. “Our ceo called me out in front of investment people which is awesome,” she said.
Easley asked Zoe what it’s like working with her husband, Rodger Berman, with whom she runs the lifestyle brand. Zoe replied that’s it’s terrific to have a person who has your back, and the decisions they make are in the best interests of their family and the business. She equated them to Lucy and Ricky. “We have each others’ backs and we will bicker and the office knows it, but we have the quickest recovery rate of any couple they know,” she said, noting that immediately after a fight, they’ll discuss what they’re having for lunch. She noted that the idea of Box of Style, a subscription service that’s filled with more than $350 worth of fashion, beauty and lifestyle items for $100, came up at 2 a.m. in the morning. “We’re always working. He’s good at checking out, but not me,” Zoe said.
Zoe’s subscription box, which she sent to Lyons and Easley, comes out four times a year, and includes items such as a diamond choker. “I would never buy a diamond choker, but now I’m wearing it to the gym,” Easley said. “I want you to wear it with a ballgown, leather jacket and denim and tulle,” Zoe said.
Lyons said she doesn’t know if anybody in the audience has ever worked in a company with consultants, which J. Crew has. “Things are shifting in the market and it feels very different,” said Lyons, as they try to figure out “Who’s the girl?” She said she loves making women feel more beautiful. “I wasn’t that cute when I was young, and that’s why I got into it. I wanted everyone to feel beautiful,” Lyons said.
Easley cited J. Crew’s spring 2017 fashion show which featured people from the office, friends and family, in all different sizes. “The process was incredible. It was fun. It felt more real that anything I’ve done for a while,” Lyons said.