Jenna Lyons and Marjon Carlos Talk Burnout and Reinvention

Style

Jenna Lyons is a multihyphenate even by 2021 standards. The former J.Crew creative director and president has expanded into the worlds of beauty (with her lash line LoveSeen, co-created with makeup artist Troi Ollivierre), TV (her series Stylish with Jenna Lyons premiered this past winter on HBO Max), and even modeling, posing for brands like Glossier and Mejuri. Marjon Carlos’s path has not been so different: a longtime fashion editor, she has branched into freelance journalism and editing, penning the Cardi B and FKA Twigs stories for ELLE, and hosts the Instagram Live advice show Your Favorite Auntie, on which Lyons will be a guest tonight at 7pm. Prior to the livestream, the two held an extremely candid conversation for ELLE that touched on everything from single motherhood to burnout to body image to reinventing yourself, whether in your 30s or your 50s. Here, some highlights from their tête-à-tête, which has been condensed and edited for clarity.

jenna lyons and marjon carlos

Jenna Lyons

MEI TAO

On pivoting to beauty:

Marjon:

How does it feel to be in the beauty space? How different is it from fashion?

Jenna:

Oh my God. It’s so different. When you are making beauty products, you are providing the person—whoever they are, whatever they look like, whatever their age, their skin tone—something to enhance themselves. It’s not about telling them what to wear. It’s not about their style. It’s about just giving them something to make them feel beautiful. And that is a place I really enjoy.

When you’re making clothing, it’s much more of an introverted thing. Whether you’re a house in Paris or a Zara or a J.Crew, you’re putting out into the world something that you’re trying to get people to prescribe to, while beauty is much more individualized. No one knows what you’re wearing when you walk out onto the street. No one’s going to look at you and say, ‘Oh, where’s your blush from?’ It just doesn’t happen. There isn’t that same sort of attachment to brand, to how much money you have. There’s not the same classism that exists within clothing.

For my own personal experience, it’s been amazing because it’s less weight. I felt a lot of weight in clothes, and I don’t feel the same way making eyelashes. It feels weightless and feather-like.

Marjon:
Beauty is probably a bit more accessible. Everybody can grab a lipstick or a moisturizer, whereas with fashion, it could be more price-prohibitive or, ‘They don’t have my size,’ or ‘This is not my style,’ or ‘I’m intimidated by this.’ But beauty is just more indulgent. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than to get a new beauty product in the mail and then try it. I’m sorry, that’s like heaven for me.

Jenna:

Literally one of the best parts of my new life is I get sent stuff. I get to slather my face all the time.

Marjon:
You also were in a Glossier ad recently, so you’re doing all the things.

Jenna:
Honestly, I’m just a slut at this point. [laughs] Because when I was at J.Crew, I had to watch everything I did. I had to be careful about everything I said. Now if someone says, ‘Do you want to do…’ I don’t have to ask anyone. It’s nice to be able to do that and to set my own terms. I was always under the covers and wraps of this big American brand and it wasn’t bad, but everything had to be under the lens of, does this make sense for J.Crew? And so it filtered out some things that just didn’t make sense, or people who just weren’t interested in me because I was connected to that brand. Now I’m not connected to them anymore, so that’s been amazing. Can you imagine starting your modeling career at 50?

jenna lyons and marjon carlos

Marjon Carlos

Christopher Tomas Smith

Marjon:
I’m 38. I feel like people think that your life ends at 30. I saw some meme the other day was like, ‘You rot from the inside after 21.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I think I only got hotter. I feel like I only got better. I think I only got stronger.’ That is exactly the course a lot of women are on right now where life didn’t stop for us at such and such date. There’s no expiration date. I love that.

Jenna:
I mean, I can’t believe the fact that Emily [Weiss] wanted me to do [the Glossier ad]. I was like, ‘Your makeup is for 22-year-olds who all smear Vaseline on their face and look great. Have you taken a look at what’s going on here? Hello!’ And she’s like, ‘No, no, no, it’s great. Our audience loves you.’ But that would never have happened, I think, five years ago, even.

“I didn’t really know what was happening to me, physically or mentally. I literally was short-circuiting.”

Marjon:
[Years ago] you were really set in stone into a brand and that was that. Editors didn’t have their own side hustles, or their own industries, or their own brand. You were definitely siloed into one thing. And that can be really hard for someone who’s creative and wants to think of themselves just beyond the title. So it’s really interesting to see how editors and writers now have been able to do their own thing and expand on that. Their bosses aren’t giving them a hard time. For me to do a panel when I was at Vogue, it took multiple red tapes, and a lot of hemming and hawing. And now I think there’s a lot more freedom, which is really nice to see.

On experiencing burnout working in fashion:

Marjon:
It was super, super hard. I didn’t really know what was happening to me, physically or mentally. I literally was short-circuiting. I couldn’t come up with anything creative, fresh, or new. And I just had to kind of go cold turkey. People were like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why would you leave Vogue?’ And I don’t know, Jenna, if you felt the same way, people coming up to you being like, ‘Why would you leave that?’ And you’re like, ‘I need to take care of myself. I need to prioritize my wellbeing.’ That wasn’t really a part of the dialogue. Obviously, that is now. I’m just looking at Naomi Osaka, for instance. I have so much respect for her for having said, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ And I think that is something that is kind of great about the younger generation. They probably see how maddening it all has become and are like, ‘You know what? I’m going to say no.’

jenna lyons and marjon carlos

Marjon Carlos

Christopher Tomas Smith

On starting her television career:

Jenna:

This year was a total wash. Literally I’m like, ‘Did it even happen?’ I mean, I launched a television show. I don’t know if anybody watched it, because we didn’t have an opening and we didn’t have a red carpet. It’s like it didn’t happen. There was a billboard around the corner from my apartment.

Marjon:
Well, that’s meta. How did that feel?

Jenna:
Like it never happened. Seriously.

Marjon:
Why?

Jenna:
It’s one of those things. Does a bear shit in the woods? I don’t know. Did it happen? I don’t know. It said HBO Max. I know my mother watched it. Besides that, I don’t know.

Marjon:
What was exciting about you about it launching, though? Even though it didn’t feel like it happened, what was exciting about it, or nerve-wracking?

“I don’t really want to crush your spirit on national television. That’s not fun.”

Jenna:
The idea of being exposed in that way on national television is not the most exciting thing. We had a showrunner whose background was reality. He did Shark Tank; he’s done really well creating shows that have a certain level of tension and reveal and emotional challenges and all the things that tick boxes to make a reality show work. But we had signed up to do half-reality, half-doc, so we had people from the documentary world. And I mean, you would have thought that I introduced a duck to a donkey. They didn’t speak the same language. They didn’t want to eat the same food. They don’t have the same feathers. We ended up folding that down midway and just going with the reality team. And so I had to hold my reputation and the way I was portrayed. You know the game where you hold the egg and you run from one side to the other? I felt like I was doing that the entire time: Here I am. Don’t fuck me up. Don’t break me. So it was very nerve-wracking, the whole thing. Have you ever done TV?

Marjon:
No. I mean, HBO Max, call me.

Jenna:
I would not be surprised.

Marjon:
Let’s do it!

Jenna:
Careful what you wish for.

Marjon:
But do you want to do it again? How do you feel?

Jenna:
I think if I did it again, I would probably want to do it differently. I loved the people, but just the pressure of trying to make an interesting show and then also trying to protect and care for the [contestants], it was hard. They were all amazing and I wish I could have hired all of them. I didn’t want to make anybody cry. I know some of them did. That kind of drama, it’s not my thing.

Marjon:
I don’t think your personality would naturally fit into being like, ‘Okay. You two, duke it out.’

Jenna:
I don’t really want to crush your spirit on national television. That’s not fun.

Marjon:
I totally feel you on that. And also fashion just has the worst reputation for that, too.

Jenna:
I mean, HBO was great. Anything that I said, ‘It has to come out.’ or, ‘I would not say that,’ or, ‘Can we please take that out?’ They were lovely, and everyone was very supportive. So I’m just saying, I understand why the showrunner was trying to get that. He’s like, ‘This makes a successful show. I want it.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, I hear you. I just don’t know if that’s right. I don’t know if that will work.’

On being a single mom:

Marjon:

Tell me a little bit about single motherhood and how that’s been going.

Jenna:
It’s hard. I mean, listen, I don’t mean it sucks, and I don’t mean it to sound negative. What I mean is, I can think of times where my kid’s like, ‘Mom, I wish there was another person here. It’s boring with just the two of us.’ You know what I mean? That’s so painful to hear. But I understand because what happens is when there’s a third person, there’s a new dynamic of conversation that can be had, and there’s dialogue that they’re hearing and picking up on. When it’s just the two of you, then it’s me trying to relate to the child.

I have joint custody with my ex, so he’s been back and forth and it’s hard. I mean, I feel fortunate. There’s been some really hard times and my ex and I are actually able to have healthy, open dialogue about our kid, which is good. That doesn’t always happen.

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On upending a career:

Marjon:
You’ve done a lot of new things. How do you deal? Because that’s a lot of growth and scorching of the earth and upending.

Jenna:
Scorching of the earth seems really nice, actually.

Marjon:
That’s how I feel, observing you. But I also feel that way personally. It’s a common theme. How do you feel right now, just having so much change in such a short amount of time?

Jenna:
Well, you know those pictures on Instagram where the person shows the picture of themselves, and they’re kind of slumped over and their belly’s out, and the light’s not great, and you’re like, ‘They don’t look so hot?’ And then the other picture where you’re like—

Marjon:
Instagram versus reality.

Jenna:
Yeah. The reality of being inside my life is not what it looks like from the outside. It’s been hard. I was on a call the other day, and someone made this analogy: I’m dancing on a pin. There’s just so many things to keep going. I have a company. It’s a small company, and it’s great and it’s doing incredibly well. And I’m so excited for LoveSeen. We have some amazing things that are happening, and I could not be more thrilled, but it’s a tiny new company. It’s not paying my old salary. And so I’m juggling. I have three other projects going on: a hotel, I’m working with Rockefeller Center, and I’m doing all these other things. It’s a lot. I was having dinner with Emily Weiss not too long ago. And she was talking about a facial that she’d gotten, and she just got engaged, and talking about her company, and how big it is. And I’m looking and sitting across from her. I could feel how weightless she was.

Marjon:
You’re like, ‘I have the world on my shoulders.’

Jenna:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I feel really fortunate. And I’m thrilled that I’m getting the opportunity to do these things again and continuing to try new things and to be able to have a whole other kind of career. It’s just not as simple as it looks from the outside.

“My bandwidth is smaller. My butt is bigger, and my boobs are smaller.”

Marjon:
It’s really, really not. Especially when you have this huge title. Fashion is very consumed with titles. How did you learn to have confidence in just being Jenna? Not being Jenna of J.Crew or “style icon,” just Jenna.

Jenna:
I live on the corner of Mercer right where the Mercer Hotel is. When I would walk up the street, there were always photographers. And I remember there was a time where they just stopped taking my picture. But what I realized—and what you don’t realize when you’re in it, because when you’re just a regular person, meaning no one’s taking your picture, no one’s writing an article about you, you’re not on the cover of a magazine, you don’t have a big job. You want all this. And you’re like, ‘Oh my God, that must be so cool.’ And, of course it is. Don’t get me wrong. It was so fun for a while. But what you realize when it all goes away is, okay, well, what really makes you happy? And you do really have to kind of get in touch with that. It took me a long time to just be okay. I don’t know if I’m okay with just being Jenna. I don’t know how to answer that. But I think what I realized is I’m really good with my life being small, meaning I don’t need a lot of people in my life.

I don’t need to go to every dinner. I remember a friend of mine said ‘You go to the opening of an envelope.’ I was like, ‘Fuck you. You might be right.’ I was always out. And I felt like I had to show up all the time. I’m figuring it out, but it’s definitely a smaller existence. And that’s great, because my bandwidth is smaller. My butt is bigger, and my boobs are smaller.

Marjon:
Well, my butt is like three times the size that it was last year.

Jenna:
You can join our workout group. I invite everybody. My friend Alex was in a car accident. She was hit by a truck. She broke both her knees, both of her ankles, her back, her shoulder. She was told she’d never walk again. And her physical therapist started doing core work with her. And she is now in the most insane shape you’ve ever seen in your life. We do a video with her every morning. It’s super fun. It’s just a gaggle of girls, and we get on the workout, we follow Alex, and it’s half an hour, and then we get off.

Marjon:
Oh my gosh. That’s an incredible story.

Jenna:
It has made a crazy difference. My ass is the reality of just being 52. The body, though, the change is crazy.

Marjon:
I think that when you wake up and your body’s different one day, that’s another part of aging that I’m just trying to get more acclimated with, because it really is such a game changer and a shock to the system. And I’m trying not to actively freak, but… I’m a size eight pant now. And for me, that’s a big shift. And I had to recalibrate my brain around beauty standards, especially having worked in fashion for so long.

Jenna:
Listen, I started working out, not because I wanted to be skinny or whatever. It was more like, I have a bad back. I hurt my back a while ago, quite badly. And when my body isn’t strong, I really suffer. I can’t sit in a plane for six hours because when I stand up, my body is like “argh.” I did it more for strength and wanting to be in better shape, but also just wanting to feel strong and feel structure under my body as opposed to feeling slouchy. I literally was pruning trees with a chainsaw in my bathing suit the other day on the street! And I’m like, ‘I don’t fucking care.’

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