the absolutely chaotic jenna lyons show
candy for my 2010s brain
HBO MAX’s Stylish with Jenna Lyons begins with having competitors style an outfit of jeans and a button down, their way in order to have a shot at redecorating Jenna Lyons’ Very Rich Friend’s brownstone with an undisclosed budget from abc carpet & home. I quickly discover this show was written by a very problematic bot that lives inside my head? Stylish has the sensibility of buying a physical copy of InStyle in 2020, living in the one dimensional space that fashion is only about making you feel better, and with the helpful aid of a fashion cartoon, you will be on your way to having your life together.
Stylish with Jenna Lyons is a competition/reality show that follows Jenna Lyons’ launch of her new GOOP-like brand, if GOOP was run by a tall brown-haired woman in glasses instead of Gwyneth Paltrow. But her business is more about designing interiors, she ensures us over and over again. It’s about Jenna mending her broken heart from her ex-girlfriend and teaching viewers how to properly cuff a denim shirt. Eight episodes later, it is apparent that the bizarre rules and codes that Stylish with Jenna Lyons operates on are purely chaotic and light up a part of my brain that I wish it didn’t.
The show lives in the naive, What Not to Wear universe where fashion is only about making the individual feel better. Where that “feel better” outfit is often a denim shirt layered with a tulle one, involving some feathered pumps. Lyons claims that the reason she got into fashion when styling was to see people transform, painting Lyons as our clothing saviour. We must listen to our leader’s very specific styling rules, and if you do, you will win the game.
Re-learning the nostalgic 2010 visual cues are just as much of the game as anything else. Lyons’ dedication to being an archetype of herself is so so fun to watch. She never takes off her variations of aviator glasses, or veers from her monotone pitch, and is committed to her manifesto of combining textures.
Watching the contestants go from pairing the same tone of denim on denim, to mixing denim tones feels like you are watching a baby learn to walk. The show is dedicated to its educational tone, and with taxi TV-like segments called “Just the tips” we learn things like, “monochrome gives you maximum polish with minimal effort,” and other arbitrary fashion “rules” Jenna has built her career on. Watching contestants throw together a layered feather skirt with a tuxedo blazer gives you the illusion that you are learning as the show goes on, and if you listen closely enough, you can actually catch yourself lip-mouthing the words, “mix high and low!” in unison with the Jenna.
But what is just as bizarre as it is fascinating to me is Lyons’ commitment to her specific aesthetic. The canonized style Lyons built her career on at J.Crew, that was once subversive can now be boiled down to the J.Crew outlet interiors you might be familiar with; scattered brooches in a wicker hamper, mannequins donned in popped oxford collars, boyfriend jeans and velvet jewel-toned loafers.
The show feels like it’s perpetuating this very 2010 attitude, one that harkens back to blogspot culture, Street Peeper and Project Runway. A time when blogger, Man Repeller was more about a rich lady’s good outfits, rather than a platform rooted in performing clothing as feminism. This show feels like it belongs to the Man Repeller sensibility that Rachel Tashjian describes here, stating, “The rise and fall of Man Repeller serves as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of asking too much of our clothes, attempting to spin every idea into a politically-charged movement.” Lyons does the same with her show, simply asking for too much of fashion. In the trailer she states she is not just creating a business, she’s creating a family. A family who will be tasked with redecorating her ex-love nest that was destroyed by a flood in the Catskills one minute, to sourcing artisanal bonsai trees for her pop-up shop the next.
While I still have no idea what Stylish is about I can say it absolutely transported me to a delusional 2010s fantasy where the most stressful thing that can happen to you is not grabbing the right creme blazer Jenna asked you to pick up.