How I'm Making It: Jenné Lombardo of Made Fashion Week

"If MADE had an HR department, we'd all be fired or sued."
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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"If MADE had an HR department, we'd all be fired or sued."
Lombardo with her MADE partners, Mazdack Rassi (L) and Keith Baptista (R).

Lombardo with her MADE partners, Mazdack Rassi (L) and Keith Baptista (R).

In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.

You may not know Jenné Lombardo by name, but you're undoubtedly familiar with her impressive -- and impossibly cool -- body of work. As one of the masterminds behind MADE Fashion Week and the force behind Milk Studios' former Fashion Week partnership with MAC Cosmetics, Lombardo and her team are some of New York City's biggest champions of young, emerging design talent and trendsetters. She and her MADE co-founders, Mazdack Rassi and Keith Baptista are clearly an unconventional, forward-thinking bunch, and she told us with a laugh, "If we had an HR department, we'd all get fired or sued."

With her own consulting company The Terminal Presents, Lombardo is also the woman who big brands flock to when they're in need of innovation, or a way to connect with the next generation of consumers. With a client list that boasts names like Alexander Wang, Playboy, W Hotels and Macy's, it's clear that she's as business savvy as she is creative, and that she has plenty of ideas to go around.

On any given day, the mother of three can be found in a boardroom, in a design studio, on a plane to take meetings in Paris or throwing a rager -- think Alexander Wang's post-show frat party in September 2011 or a Fashion Week kick-off concert inside of Milk's loading dock with Kendrick Lamar -- so saying she's busy is a massive understatement. And did we mention that she looks damn good while doing it all? Perusing photos of Lombardo online proves that she puts her money where her mouth is when it comes to style: She's a fan of taking fashion risks and supporting burgeoning brands.

Just before the New York Fashion Week madness began, we sat down with Lombardo to hear about how she got her start, and perhaps more importantly, what she's cooking up for the future.

Fashionista: Tell us about your early days at MAC. How did you land there? Lombardo: I was working at Interview magazine. A friend of mine started working at MAC Cosmetics and brought me in to meet with the president at the time, who was John Demsey. He basically said, "I don't have a job for you, but I think you're terrific, and let's just get you in here." I created my own job within a massive corporation, and it's a real ode to John as a visionary, as a boss and a leader.

What was your role? And how did you develop a relationship with Milk Studios? When I was first there I was working with makeup artists and really making sure that all the different musicians had MAC product on tour, and MAC was really supportive of art and fashion and music initiatives. Ultimately I became the head of fashion talent and events. I would identify talent and negotiate spokespeople's contracts for special product collaborations. I also made sure that MAC had presence backstage globally at all the different designers that we related to's shows, as well as any additional fashion sponsorship initiatives.

My relationship with Milk Studios started there. We initiated this program called MAC & Milk where MAC was the official supporter of Milk studios [during New York Fashion Week]. The makeup stations here were outfitted with key MAC products, and it's a really supportive and organic relationship that existed between MAC and Milk. MAC would support dinners and events that [Mazdak] Rassi was doing at Milk. That friendship between Rassi and I helped to create MAC & Milk, which is now known as MADE.

You said when you were at MAC you partnered with designers who were similar in view-point to you. How did you hone in on that talent? I don't know. I think it's innate. I think it's just intuition driven. My ear is super close to the ground, and I have a sense for what's going on. I met [Alexander Wang] at a dinner at Milk, before he was "Alex Wang." I thought he was really cool and funny. And at the time when I started to oversee fashion, nobody was paying attention to the next generation. They only cared about Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, and nobody was talking or thinking about Proenza Schouler or Alex. Those weren't even on their radar, but to me they were the most important and most influential because I knew it was about to rupture.

When did MAC & Milk become MADE? It was sort of this perfect storm of me and my two partners' worlds colliding. I was leaving my role at MAC to start my own company, and for MAC it was something I had built internally there, and we decided that it was a really important program and that it couldn't go away. Our strengths and respective roles coming together allowed us to build this program and work with talent. Not just designers: artists and musicians and Parsons students. You name it. But also with brands.

How does MADE work? How do the shows get put on? Basically we have a division that scours the globe for talent in music and fashion, and they're very well aware of what's going on. And so we reach out more often than not to that talent. Once we've established a relationship with them -- depending on if they're doing a presentation or show -- we decide on the package they get. If they're doing a runway show, we have the entire runway space provided to them at no cost, and that's basic sound and the overall production that Keith [Baptista]'s team produces alongside our production company. If they're doing a presentation, we underwrite the cost of the space as well as Milk. We raise [money] by way of our partners. We can sometimes support offsite shows, and whatever we have, we give.

Do you help each individual designer with their business trajectory? Or is there a mentorship? It's on a case by case basis. Some designers lean on us more than others, and we're always here for them. We're looking to formalize a relationship with a particular business school to offer that mentorship. And more importantly, to help these designers meet their potential business partners, because that's what they all need.

Do you have any thoughts on the movement from Lincoln Center this season? Or about the hub they're creating where new designers will show instead?

Photo: Courtesy of Jenne Lombardo

Photo: Courtesy of Jenne Lombardo

Do you have any thoughts on the movement from Lincoln Center this season? Or about the hub they're creating where new designers will show instead? It's absolutely necessary. And this is why brands come to me. The second you stop growing and changing, there's going to be someone that comes around and you'll fall behind. I think that sometimes people just get comfortable in their existing business models, and I personally think it's lazy -- and this isn't even specific. I'm not saying IMG is [doing this]. I think it's super important that you listen to what the community wants and respond to it. You can't dictate and expect people to follow.

Discovering new talent, that seems to me like a full-time job. How do you keep that in mind and find the time to do research? I don't know, I just crave newness and content. I'm a junkie for it. I don't have the attention span to get through a magazine, which is pathetic. I don't even buy magazines anymore unless they're beautiful book-azines for my apartment. I'm constantly hopping around from site to person to any rad new designer. I'm always asking, "What are you interested in, what's happening?" Teenagers are my favorite human beings to talk to. I love to know what they're shopping, what they're doing.

What's the MADE selection process like? We just try to curate a nice balance of streetwear to high fashion. We support [some of] them because we know they're going to be a viable business. Others, they might not, but it's just really visually stimulating and fun. So it's like editing -- for us we treat our program almost like a magazine.

Do you follow blogs? No. I think a lot of them are all the same. It's like "pretty girl in clothes." I do look to JJJJound and the #Been #Trill crew for inspiration.

What are your goals for MADE? You just collaborated with Macy's on a clothing line. Anything else exciting coming up? We expanded to Paris three seasons ago. We're not supporting Paris this season because it's contingent on the amount of funds we can raise. There's the deal with Macy's, which is really exciting. We designed 30 SKUs a month carried in Macy's stores and online. They approached us and took a massive leap of faith with us. And I'm going to miss it when it's over because I love getting to design the clothes and wear them. We definitely have a lot of growth strategies in the making right now.

Let's talk about The Terminal Presents. Is that like 'Jenné on call?' Is it mainly consulting? The Terminal Presents is a strategic marketing company, so I help brands maintain their relevancy. A lot of brands turn to me because they want to develop a dialogue between themselves and millennials while retaining their core customer base. And based off of the client, I do many different things: I did the Westfield shopping centers and making sure that they maintained their relevancy. Playboy came to me to help restore it to its glory. I helped Beyoncé launch her album. It is awesome.

I really enjoy working with older established companies. They come to me when they realize their brand needs to change -- that maintaining old methods doesn't allow them to grow, and they'll lose to the other competition. I'm doing some work with Pepsi, which is really exciting for me because I just have such a clear vision and path for them.

Some of your clients are outside of fashion. Yes. I have some fashion clients that I'm helping to build their brands in the U.S. -- multimillion dollar [brands] overseas [with no U.S. presence]. From content creation on the front and back end to retailer appointments, I'm making sure they've established themselves here.

What is your life like between Fashion Weeks? It's just like anything else. Magazine editors are out of commission for a month traveling, but the magazine still has to come out every month, you know? I don't like it. I really don't like it. I'm a mother, I maintain a business. I change outfits three to four times per day because there are a lot of different press opportunities. And then there are all of the designers you want to support. It's exhausting. I'm convinced that it's for teenagers.

Are you able to make time for yourself? No. I don't go to the gym during Fashion Week, although I'd like to try this season. I try to not go to parties. Last season I really didn't go to a lot of events because the people who are out partying are, I'm convinced, not the real people in the industry because I'm sure that it's not humanly possible. But I feel bad not being there.

What's shaped your work philosophy? I guess what I have learned is just the preparation that goes into it is key. If you try to wing it during the week, you're going to fall off your game because it's all about efficiency. If you've got your cards laid out, your hair and makeup set up if you've got public appearances or camera interviews, your outfits... come Fashion Week, it's best that you wake up and everything's on auto pilot.

You are very much a creative and business-minded woman. Do you think that's what makes you valuable to so many types of brands? Yes, I think it's advantageous in what I do. I wish I had one or the other. I would like to be all or nothing. In a lot of projects, people like to define you. For instance, if I'm working on something on the business side, they don't realize creatively how much influence I could have. So you have to keep quiet and realize what someone hired you for. And then as they get to know you, they open up and allow more opportunities.

Would you say that just having a variety of things to do every day is what keeps you going? No two days must be alike. Ever. Ever, ever, ever. And I don't even think my boyfriend knows what I do. He knows maybe about a third of what I do, and at the end of the day, when we're talking about each other's days, I'm too tired to recount what happened, so I just ask about his. I'm really good at deflecting.

Out of all of the things you do, what's your passion? Whether it's one of your businesses that you're tied to or an aspect of fashion show production or design, is there something you see yourself doing forever? I absolutely love design for sure, but I love it because it's not on my dime. I don't have to deal with production and Chinese New Year. But yeah, I have a lot of passions. It ranges from just taking good care of myself -- I'm really committed and devoted to that. Taking care of people. Putting things together and introducing people is my favorite. I want for everyone to feel the same excitement that I do when I meet someone amazing. Little stuff. It's not anything major to write about.