With her smart mix of high and low statement pieces and signature dark, thick-rimmed glasses, J. Crew's President and Executive Creative Director Jenna Lyons is arguably one of fashion’s most stylish women. But as we learned, thanks to a new essay the street style favorite penned for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, she’s also perhaps the industry’s most approachable figure.
In a piece titled “The Watermelon Skirt,” the innovative force behind the popular brand’s preppy M.O. reveals that confidence was the trait she least exuded growing up. Lyons, who was diagnosed with incontinentia pigmenti (a rare disease that causes cone-shaped teeth, loss of hair, and scarred skin), opens up about the “humiliation, fear, and self-loathing” she experienced as a 13-year-old who was bullied for her disorder by girls with “flawless skin, long eyelashes” and “bodies made for roller skating.”
She moves on to candidly detail the whirlwind of depression she entered after she officially became the last one to be chosen for dodgeball and the “butt of jokes in social studies.” “I was officially gross,” she writes. “I started wearing long sleeves and pants every day in the hot California sun. I stopped smiling. And when I couldn’t help myself, I covered my mouth in shame.”
So how did the beauty go from ugly duckling to certified swan? Fashion. “But seventh grade was an odd turning point. I took a home economics class. Profound life changes can happen in home ec. Believe me, that statement sounds just as ridiculous to me as it does to you,” she hilariously adds. “What happened was I learned to sew.”
Lyons explains how the yellow watermelon-patterned skirt (above) not only helped cover up her literal and figurative scars, but also attracted the attention of one of her school’s most popular cool girls. The unexpected makeover led to a “professional haircut,” invitations to daring, liquor-infused “cool” parties, and even a kiss from a cute boy named Tommy.
She closes the essay waxing poetic about how ironic it is that despite her rough and tumble teen years, her job now requires her to have high levels of confidence and also spend time with some of the world’s most gorgeous models. “To my absolute shock, surprise, and deepest appreciation, I am often talked about favorably for how I look,” she continues. “Beautiful, excited, and nervous young girls and even boys actually ask to take photos with me. They apologize for interrupting me.”
Her ultimate advice? “People. Don’t apologize for asking. It’s the MOST flattering request in the world. It makes me feel special. The opposite of gross. So, thank you.”