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Jenna Lyons Is Incredible on ‘The Real Housewives of New York’
How many of us are watching RHONY just for her?
The fourteenth season of The Real Housewives of New York is three episodes deep, and Jenna Lyons, the show’s most surprising cast member, could not be more satisfying to watch. She is the reason many of us are embracing this season, which has an entirely new cast after the messy thirteenth season produced low ratings.
Fashion fans will remember Jenna from the heyday of Michelle Obama-era J. Crew. She was the creative director from 2010 to 2017, though she started working there in 1990. She became a street-style star during that period of time, when influencers were embryos, her signatures including a bold matte lip of a specific bright red shade, thick-framed glasses, and somehow making sequins work with chinos. Was she dressing for day? For night? For the specific environs of fashion shows and art gallery events? She was dressing for all of it — the ego and the id of personal style — and leading one of America’s quintessential mall clothing brands while she did it. Her designs, which regularly appeared on the most celebrated first lady since Jackie Kennedy, became part of American history. Michelle Obama wore J. Crew pieces to both of her husband's inaugurations, to visit 10 Downing Street in London, and on numerous other occasions.
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This resumé makes her a highly unusual Housewife! She is also the series’ first openly gay cast member. Going into this season, fans wondered how, as a person with real fashion bona fides, she would mesh with the Housewives. However, there are clues in the Jenna Lyons media archive that she was actually made for this. For instance, her need to have certain seemingly trivial things a specific way, which is a wonderful trait in both Housewives and fashion people. Circa New York Fashion Week 2016, Jenna’s lunch order became a viral news item after she told Bon Appétit that she ate the same thing every day:
…The Cobb salad at Westville makes me crazy because my assistant has been trying to get them to put a hard-boiled egg in my salad and they keep sending it with a fried egg, so she brings me one from home, which I feel very guilty about. Maybe if you write about it, they’ll put a boiled egg in my salad. If you could have any influence, I’d be so grateful.
That interview also included this:
There are a ton of cocktail parties during Fashion Week. Do you have any strategies?
There’s something about caterers that they love blue cheese, caviar or salmon roe, and Champagne, which has to create the worst breath situation possibly known to man. Throw in a little bit of dill, and you’re done. Tragic. It’s so disgusting. So I try to avoid all that stuff. My one strategy is to stand by the door to the kitchen where the servers are coming out. Then you get them right when the food is coming out. If you stand away from the kitchen, by the time it gets to you, the little macaroni-and-cheeses or mini grilled cheeses nobody else ate have coagulated, and the servers have been bumped around so they’re not in the best mood. I love a pig in a blanket; it’s basically the best thing in the world. I horde them.
Yet, when Erin serves the women no food but caviar, does Jenna reveal any of her true feelings on hors d'oeuvres? No. This polite restraint enables her to mesh with the cast — but also completely throws them. Erin introduces Jenna as “a total enigma,” explaining, “she doesn’t like dill but loves parsley” and “she likes olives but not the black ones.”
Jenna seems less like an enigma than an introvert on a show that has almost if not fully exclusively cast extroverts. She behaves in the rational way that fellow “I would never go on that show” viewers like to believe they would behave. She projects insouciance and logic in a sea of striving and illogic. Her personal style shines, falling pleasingly between the sterility of Succession and the garishness of And Just Like That. Meanwhile, her castmates seem to order their style straight off of Revolve.com, no edits.
In the first episode, Jenna visits Jessel, a fashion publicist, at her apartment where she displays a clear jar of Oreos. Jenna takes one because, unlike the shakshuka Erin allegedly cooks, she can’t resist a cookie — but not without asking the important question of how long they’ve been sitting there in that disturbing, decorative fashion. Jessel says she would have loved to work for Jenna, and Jenna laughs and says well, you say that but ask the people who worked for me. It was the sort of self-deprecation that does not generally come naturally to Housewives.
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In the midst of a cheese-related micro-drama, Jenna has the Housewives over to her absolutely devastating Soho apartment, where she serves cheese fondu prepared by her chef plus an entire Whole Foods case of cheese. She has come up with a dressing theme — black, khaki, and metallic — but the women can’t understand how to follow it and largely show up in black-plus-jewelry. Jenna is perplexed, stating in her confessional, “Khaki is a color, it’s not khakis.”
Erin the realtor, perhaps envious of Jenna’s taste, insults her apartment’s resale value. The internet would beg to differ, however, because after the episode aired, her loft became a mini-sensation. Erin’s homes would receive no such attention, but the same cannot be said of her Trump donations! Of course Jenna’s place has herringbone floors, of course it has a metallic backsplash that you would have never thought to desire for your own kitchen but now can’t stop thinking about, of course she mixed in leopard floor poufs in a way that makes sense instead of screams KRIS JENNER at you. She has a crystal chandelier in her bedroom but it feels modern instead of like the lobby of an overpriced hotel. Then, there’s her closet, which is as impeccably decorated as every other part of the space, is big enough to sleep at least two (maybe more by Manhattan standards), and has shelving specifically for her collection of more than 300 pairs of shoes.
The second and third episodes see the women off to Erin’s seven-bathroom house in the Hamptons, which is decorated entirely in white. If Jenna Lyons’s house is, say, a 2018 Alessandro Michele-era Gucci party, Erin’s Hamptons home is a white party when you thought the world had moved on from white parties. Sai, a content creator, packs enough clothing for eight issues’ worth of Vogue shoots, while Jenna simply shows up in jeans and a sweater and a smattering of glittering jewelry with plans to wear some version of this for the entire weekend. Jenna makes no secret of the fact that she would rather not have to stay in a house with this group of women because she is an introvert who prefers having time to herself. She mentions to Erin that her Hamptons house is only 1,500 square feet. The takeaway was that she has the Hamptons house of someone who has nothing to prove. Erin, on the other hand, has everything to prove. This may explain why she chooses to feed her guests only caviar brought over to her house by special caterers in a glorified hatbox. (It more or less amounts to a few Pringles each, causing Ubah to flee to look for actual food elsewhere.)
Jenna brought a lingerie item to gift each Housewife, including a green-and-black negligee for Jessel, who rejects it as among the worst clothing to ever grace her body. This is a woman whom Jenna had to stop from leaving the house wearing Alexander Wang and Balenciaga logos at once, which isn’t even an issue of taste so much as common sense. When Jenna Lyons gave her something to wear, she should have said, “Thank you, O Stylish One,” not, “I absolutely hate this.”
Hilariously, Jenna retreats to her Hamptons house for the night because the women are up late drinking, playing loud music, and doing cartwheels, and she has a 6:30 call in the morning. The Housewives attempt to make great hay out of this, but as is often the case with Jenna, it quickly falls apart because Jenna’s actions… make sense? Sai calls her “geriatric” (direct confessional quote: “Granny’s sleeping, guys!”) for trying to get a good night’s sleep. Sai then says that Jenna is rude for leaving, particularly when she was given the good room without a crib.
The next morning, Jenna returns with coffee — which is not only considerate but also probably necessary given Erin’s determination not to feed anyone anything more than a couple of chips. Under attack for leaving, she explains that her absence had nothing to do with not wanting to wake up with these women, she just needed to sleep before her early call. Erin then figures she’ll blame Jenna for the lack of food by saying she was going to make everyone shakshuka, but Jenna told her not to. Jenna is like, I never told anyone not to make shakshuka, you are adults and can have shakshuka if you want it, I just didn’t want to eat that before working out. How do you get monogrammed pajamas for everyone, but then can’t even scare up a few bowls of Cap’n Crunch for them the next day? There are gradations of food prep — it’s not just shakshuka or bust!
They finally eat at a restaurant in Sag Harbor (or simply “Sag” if you’re Erin). The women (not Jenna) dress up for lunch like they’re going on an influencer trip, and Erin scorns them for getting way too dressed up for “lunch in Sag,” even though she decides to wear bright red heels. Jenna, meanwhile, thinks they look amazing, which they do, because they’re all wearing white and khaki and look like they’re going to a gala at an equestrian camp. Why didn’t they understand to produce this fiesta of khaki for the party in her apartment? Who knows! But she’s amused by it and photographs them in an admiring way.
Over lunch, the women try to blame Jenna for various things, and each effort slips through their fingers like sand. Sai blames Jenna for Erin not feeding them. Then Brynn says if she did the things Jenna did, like leave to sleep at her own house, Erin would be way more mad at her. The conversation comes back to Jessel being outwardly disdainful of Jenna’s lingerie gift. Jenna avoids calling her out for being rude until Erin and Sai state as much. Then Jenna simply says that the way Jessel reacted “didn’t feel great.”
With this squall of inanity swirling around her, Jenna sits there with her sweater tied around her neck, largely indifferent and inscrutable. She looks utterly fabulous and Anna Wintour-y in the best way:
Why this has not been memed to death is beyond me, so here you go.