As with ballroom dancing or the perfect omelet, a lot of work goes into making the final product look effortless. While J. Crew's catalog images often suggest an easy, spontaneous chic, the photo shoots and styling are planned down to the tiniest detail.
Take November cover girl Erin Wasson, for instance. Lyons described their work as a natural fit, since model Wasson's nonchalant, slightly tomboyish style meshed with J. Crew's direction.
"She's not going to wear an anorak with a flower on it," Lyons said; instead, they recruited a few menswear items. Riffing on Wasson's distinctive look, each rolled-up cuff and scrunched sock was carefully choreographed prior to the shoot.
And some real-life quandaries led to some of the season's new products.
When several J. Crew staffers found themselves torn between entrenched high-heel habits and the need for comfort, they developed a subtle solution. "We all want to wear high heels all day but we can't!," exclaimed Lyons. "What does a platform look like for a girl who feels like it's a little too forward?"
Enter the Marlene suede pump with hidden platform. The quarter-inch platform leaves you three inches to go -- but as every woman knows, every little bit helps. "Once you try it, you never go back," Lyons says. More Marlenes are due out for Spring 2010.
J. Crew November Catalog
Take a tour through J. Crew's November catalog, guided by Jenna herself.
New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Pictures
November's menswear pages introduced 11 "Real Guys" as models and inspiration. These fellows hadn't modeled professionally before but caught J. Crew's eye with their dashing personal style.
They come from all walks of life, and include Lee Daniels, director of the film "Precious," and Brook Klausing, a garden designer Lyons met when he worked on her backyard. Lyons also spotted author Tom Folsom while attending a book reading held at a J. Crew store.
CEO Millard "Mickey" Drexler lured in some guys as well, including designers (and identical twins) Dexter and Byron Peart, whom he met through industry friends. The Pearts are now collaborating with J. Crew on a line of bags and luggage, to be released in December.
The J. Crew team found clothes that reflected what the real guys wear in everyday life. "The guys look like who they are," promises Lyons. Hotelier Sean MacPherson, for instance, appears in a distressed leather racer jacket. "We'd never put Sean in a suit; he grew up in California with a hippie mom!"
Clarks Originals Wallabees have just joined the Designer Gallery roster, the handful of classic brands in long-term partnerships with J. Crew. The three original colors are available now; exclusive colors or styles might be added in the future. "All the cute boys in my neighborhood wore them [when I was growing up]," remembered Lyons.
It's easier to channel Steve McQueen now that J. Crew distributes some English-made Belstaff jackets. "Mickey [Drexler] is obsessed with the brand," Lyons reveals, since "their product quality is phenomenal and there's a heritage there that we believe in." J. Crew also carries the Belstaff women's bomber jacket seen in the film "Amelia."
Lyons encourages women to look at the menswear pages for ideas -- and to pluck favorite items for their own wardrobe. A man's hat or shirt can be the perfect thing to offset sequins or ruffles, for a cool masculine/feminine mash-up. Just beware of your find ending up in your guy's closet!