Before and after I quizzed Jenna on her life, trying to grasp just how she does so much in so few hours, we wandered through J.Crew's massive offices. Between men's, women's, kids, Madewell, the catalog, the website and CEO Mickey Drexler's daily bike ride through the office - there's a lot going on. The design studio has its own separate floor on which there's a color library and separate sections for every team which means the walls are filled with inspiration in the form of editorials, fabric swatches, vintage clothes and jewels, favorite models, favorite seasons, pictures of kids, of parties, of houses. Her office, a brightly lit corner full of magazines - including some Vogues from the 70s that I'm pretty sure I saw in the Met earlier in the week - samples, suitcases and furry pillows, is the center of the design action with people coming and going to discuss all things J.Crew. After the jump, pictures, history and her favorites.
You really have a hand in every single thing. Definitely between the actual design of the stores - picking paint colors, rugs for the East Hampton store. It's amazing to be able to touch this much stuff. You must never get bored. No totally it's so funny, people always comment like, "Oh you've worked for the same company for so long," but I don't feel like it's the same company and I don't feel like I'm doing the same thing. How long has it been? Nineteen years. Wow. Yeah it is so different. I mean I loved J.Crew in middle school and I love it now but I dress so differently. It is changing a lot. We're making it more modern and Mickey's been great in opening up the doors and letting us try new things. Do you two work closely together? Oh yeah totally. I'm surprised he hasn't been on the loud speaker. He's always on that loud speaker. He's amazing . I have to say he's so supportive of design and creativity and so much fun. To him, there are no limits, no boundaries. There's nothing we can't do. He has this thing, where if I ever say anything pragmatic he'll say, "No loser talk!" Like, don't shut it down until you've really tried. And sometimes I'll get practical and he works so hard to keep everyone's mind open. He makes production think outside the box, the merchants think outside the box, me think outside the box. He's just amazing and crazy at the same time. We joke about it all the time because he just gets so excited about things, like a little kid, that he can't keep a secret. I'll have to hide stuff from him because he wants to tell the whole world. That's awesome. So out of all the different things that you do, do you have a favorite? I think my favorite thing is, well, it's just amazing to me that I get paid to do this. I mean this is what I would want to do if I didn't have a job so the fact that someone actually pays me is pretty okay. I guess I could do without the budget stuff and the pressure sometimes.
You even have to do budgets? Is there anything you don't do? I don't do any of the buying! No store operations - but I do oversee the design budget. And the pressure is sometimes really intense. So you studied design? I did. I went to Parsons. So how did you get there? I took a home ec class when I was in seventh grade. Where are you from? California. Palos Verdes. I'm from San Francisco. So funny! How long have you lived here? Three years. Since I graduated, but I went to school in Boston. I was born in Boston! Too funny. So took this home ec class in seventh grade and I was super tall and gawky and started to learn how to sew and I got into it so I asked for a sewing machine that Christmas. And my grandmother gave me one and a subscription to Vogue so I just started making stuff and other people actually liked it and asked me to make them stuff. And I had this kind of funny situation where my grandmother lived on the east coast, very preppy background, so she would send me these navy blue Brooks Brothers blazers and white button down Oxfords, but I would wear them with my OPI shorts and my vans. That was my funny little mix of things and then my grandmother would give me her pearls and I'd wear tons of pearls with a little blazer and some silly skirt that I'd made, some gypsy skirt. But I found that I had this influence of this east coast grandma, and I loved that classically preppy part of it, but it didn't make sense in California so I found a way to mix it with you know board shorts, vans etc. Make it more laid back. Hmm...like J.Crew now? Hmm...interesting. It was just so much fun for me. I loved making stuff and my mom completely indulged me and put me in drawing classes and more and more advanced sewing classes and I was like if I can do this, make this my life -- I mean that's what I wanted to do i my free time so it's just amazing that it really is my job. I want nothing more than to wake up and talk about pretty clothes and pick out furniture and window treatments and talk about colors. So I finished school and took a summer class at Parsons and I remember looking at the critiques list - the critics would come in and critique your work - and in California the critics were Carole Little and George Marciano and in New York it was Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi so I was like, "OK, I need to get to New York." And then I graduated, with Derek Lam and Tom who you met. And it's so fun to see the people I went to school with doing so well. So what happened after graduation? I worked at Donna Karan for about eight months - I'd interned there while I was in school - but it was very expensive. I couldn't afford it, my family couldn't afford it. It was very different from my life. There were crystals dangling off everything and it was the 90s and it was so far from me and what I instinctively knew how to do so I interviewed with J.Crew and took a job in men's knits.
Wow. I was like what the hell, whatever. I was just so excited to work for the company. Emily Woods hired me at her house in California. She was like when can you start and I said how about now and she was like okay, go vintage shopping for me. It was that time when the 40s rayon print dresses were big, off the heels of Marc Jacobs, the grunge factor. So I went and bought all these 40s style dresses and I was like, "Ok, I can't believe this is my job." I was really fortunate to start at the company when I was always ready for the next thing and we were always getting bigger so I was always able to step into a bigger role. And that was just timing. I don't think someone could come in and do that now. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. Every person I've interviewed for Life With talks about the importance of timing. At this point, the meetings begin. It's only supposed to be one, to discuss paint and drapes for the East Hampton store, but as people realize Jenna's free her secretary brings in more and more note cards scribbled with meeting requests. She's taken this first one because if Brandon doesn't get out by 6, he loses $200 to his trainer. Jenna: I hope he paves your abs in gold. Brandon: It's just for the first time and then it goes down from there! Jenna: Look at you though, what could you possibly want to do? Look like the Incredible Hulk? It's true. Brandon is already in impeccable shape. And now he's blushing. He lays out the East Hampton blueprints in front of Jenna, who takes up a pencil and paint swatches. They discuss the staircase and the room in the middle of the store that connects men's and women's. They want to balance the dark and light greys without being too dramatic. They'd leave it all white but that would look clinical. Though Jenna makes the final decision, everyone in the room is consulted and nothing is settled until they are all satisfied. Then Jenna is presented with pictures of possible furniture for the store, vintage couches sourced from eBay, and has to decide which she likes best and also which works timing wise. If the couch needs to be in the store by the end of the week she might have to choose the one in Chicago, even if she likes the one in Arizona better. After this she has to decide on hands. Yep, hands. They've been working on developing the perfect hand on which to display winter gloves. This one, made of wood, looks nice, but bends the glove in a funny way. She notes that the base isn't long enough either, and that whatever hand they end up with must work for both knit and leather gloves. It continues like this, expertly shifting gears and knowing what looks and works best in regards to every single detail. After a few more meetings, I'm exhausted and ask her to list her favorites. FAVORITES! WORD: Someone used the word heinous-ity. It made me laugh. MAGAZINE: Cabinet or World of Interiors BOOK: Anything by Cy Twombly FOOD: My husband's BBQ ribs DRINK: I don't discriminate. PLACE: Home, Park Slope COLOR: Bone MODEL: Isabella Rossellini DESIGNER: Can't do it