Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

Design 50

Dynamic Duos: J. Crew's Libby Wadle And Jenna Lyons On Tension

They are the yin and yang force behind J.Crew’s creative comeback—and potential heirs to the fashion retail empire.

Libby Wadle, President of J.Crew Brand
Jenna Lyons, President and Executive, Creative Director

Libby Wadle, President of J.Crew Brand
Jenna Lyons, President and Executive, Creative Director

Wadle: Jenna is a designer all day long, but she can also have conversations about real estate, about parts of running the business that many designers will just tune out. She gets how all the moving parts connect. She really understands and loves our customer, and how far you can push her, how far you can't.

I am the business side to the creative piece. I'm Jenna's partner. So she and her team design the product, design the brand creative, all of that; my team picks the product, edits it, decides how much to buy and how much to put in which store it goes in, that kind of thing. Sort of creates the picture for the customer in the store, how often it comes in, and then how much you should be buying of it. I’ve worked with a lot of designers in the past and while I would never call Jenna a democratic commercial designer, she gets it and she also really understands our customer and she loves our customer. And she understands how far you can push her, how far you can't.

That's the beauty of it. Her head is not in the clouds.

Lyons: I feel incredibly lucky because I've had relationships at this level that haven't been as functional.

Wadle: There should always be tension. Tension [between merchandising and design] will always help move each party forward, especially a merchant. A merchant can actually create a line but then it becomes very formulaic, it becomes very much what the customer has asked for, has bought in the past. But with a good amount of design inspiration and tension, there is always that healthy debate about how you move something forward. And that's the magic of the merchandising and the design relationship. So whenever you have a designer that's too easy to work with, it's almost not great ... It's not really a fight as much as a healthy conversation. So there is sort of a pass off that happens; design creates the line and then merchandising takes it from there ... The unique thing about J. Crew is while merchandising takes it, the creative influence doesn't end there, where it sort of ends in a lot of companies. The merchant here edit the line and pick the product but then we do the website and the catalogue and there is still a creative vision throughout that can really continue to inform everyone and it's sort of a real magical part of J. Crew.

Read more about Libby Wadle and Jenna Lyons from Fast Company:

Read more pairings from Fast Company's 10th Annual Innovation By Design issue:

[Photography by Yu Tsai]

A version of this article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.