J. Crew’s Creative Director and brand President, Jenna Lyons, is one of the most famous executives in the fashion world.
But she overcame adversity to get there.
Lyons was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called incontinentia pigmenti that caused her skin to scar and her hair to fall out.
She was teased and called gross growing up, and she describes her journey to self-discovery in detail in the Tuesday edition of Lena Dunham’s newsletter for young women, Lenny Letter.
“It might have been on a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm,” Lyons writes, recalling a time she was singled out for her looks. “I was around 13 years old, standing in line for one of the rides. My younger brother, Spencer, was standing with me. I remember there were two high-school girls behind us. The kind of girls I wanted to be. The kinds of girls who wake up, shower, put their glossy straight hair in a ponytail, and bounce out the door; no makeup, flawless skin, long eyelashes, bodies made for roller skating on The Strand. One of them said to the other, ‘LOOK AT HER SKIN, WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS?! THAT’S GROOOOSS!’ It took me a minute, and then I realised they were talking about me. I can’t quite describe the feeling. It was somewhere between humiliation, fear, and self-loathing, all complemented with utter despair.”
She goes on to describe how she became depressed.
“I guess that’s what you call it when someone cries on the bathroom floor for no apparent reason, sleeps all day after school, and spends endless hours studying every inch of Vogue and Mademoiselle, desperately trying to imagine what those girls’ lives were like: what kind of things did people say about them? Did boys like them? Were they popular? I dreamed of what it would be like to wake up beautiful, only to realise that was a pipe dream,” she writes.
She was often made fun of by her peers and picked last for sports.
But she says that learning to sew in home economics class helped her gain confidence. She sewed herself what she calls The Watermelon Skirt, thereby giving herself stylish clothing that fit her lanky frame. A popular girl asked her where she got her skirt, and asked her to make her one, too. Soon, Lyons says she a got a boyfriend and a chic looking haircut — both of which helped her confidence surge.
“It marked the beginning of my own private, self-initiated makeover. But it also marked the beginning of my understanding transformation. I realised for the first time that people’s memories are short and their opinions are malleable,” she writes.
Now, Lyons is a sartorial icon, and she notes the irony in how many people compliment her looks, given her narrative.
That said, Lyons maintains that when she was an outcast, she wasn’t the only one — and those who were outcast happened to be the most unique people of all. “But what I realised along the way was that a lot of the really smart, interesting, talented, compassionate, and equally dysfunctional people sit out here with me,” she writes.
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