Jenna Lyons Will Return to ‘Real Housewives of New York City’


It was never a given that Jenna Lyons would return for a second season of “Real Housewives of New York City.”

After the first season aired, Ms. Lyons said on “The Tonight Show” that she “genuinely” didn’t know if she would come back. And though she had earned favor among fans — some had taken to inserting a swear word between her first and last name, like a rallying cry — she declined to appear at the popular fan event BravoCon, citing a conflict.

From the start, she wasn’t quite Bravo’s type: a discerning former fashion executive dropped into a fishbowl of screaming and scheming. Ms. Lyons preferred blue denim to busty gowns. She was New York’s first queer housewife but reluctant to open up about her personal life, irking some of her fellow cast members.

There was also a fight over her disinclination to fly coach on a group trip to Anguilla, although even that charmed some viewers, Ms. Lyons told The New York Times: “So many people stood up for me and were like, ‘I get it, I don’t want to fly coach either!’”

Her chief motivation for joining the show had been to promote her beauty business, she said, and recover some of the cultural cachet she had lost in 2017, when she left the job at J. Crew that made her famous.

In this, Ms. Lyons succeeded. “It was shocking to see the results,” she said. Her following on Instagram quadrupled, and LoveSeen, her false eyelashes company, profited from the exposure, too. The brand had been doing well in major American cities, but, she said, “we were struggling in places where people didn’t know who I was.” Reality television unleashed her — with her signature oversize glasses and barely buttoned tops — on the rest of the country.

Job offers followed. In late February, she became chief editor at large of Coveteur, a longtime style website now “looking to do something different,” Ms. Lyons said, a little vaguely. She started the job only three weeks ago. (One project already completed: a photo shoot with Molly Ringwald at the Hotel Chelsea.) She was also named executive creative director of FundamentalCo, a new consultancy firm from Jonny Bauer, formerly of Blackstone.

It is not a coincidence that both of these jobs involve repositioning brands. Ms. Lyons spent last year repositioning herself. She is back on V.I.P. lists, dressed by luxury fashion houses and photographed at their shows and parties in New York and Paris — a part of her life she once thought had ended but to which she isn’t getting too reattached.

“I know all of that will be maybe gone next year or the year after, and that’s OK,” she said.

Having achieved her goals, why would the “unlikely housewife” return? In the edited interview below — nine months after detailing her decision to join the cast to The Times — Ms. Lyons now explains her decision to stay.

I wasn’t totally sure you were going to come back.

Same. I’ve taken on a lot of projects. There was some concern about my ability, just time-wise, to commit to it, and that was a big deal.

I also have a new relationship and wanted to maintain privacy. It was not just me. We all had to figure out, like, Can this work? I wasn’t sure. Definitely not sure.

Did you read any of the feedback on the first season from fans or critics? How much of that did you absorb?

I did pay attention to my comments. What I was shocked by, and one of the reasons I did feel comfortable going back, is people were so nice. I thought I would take heat for some things, here and there, and I didn’t at all. Particularly in the beginning, I would scan through the comments, like, Let’s just see if anybody’s coming at me.

All the things that I was afraid of didn’t really happen.

Have you trademarked “Jenna (Effing) Lyons” yet?

[She laughed.] No.

I’m surprised, you’re such a business woman.

It’s funny — I struggle with things that are directly related to me, always.

I was struck by how it seemed as if the other women wanted to impress you. Did I pick up on that vibe correctly?

I don’t know if I would say they wanted to impress. What I picked up on — and you’d have to ask them — is that everyone had a preconceived idea of who I was that had nothing to do with me. It had to do with the idea that they formulated in their head, anticipated or projected onto me based on what they thought a woman who had been the president of a big company would be like.

Can you tell me about negotiations with Bravo about coming back? Last time we talked, you said you drew some hard lines around your son being filmed.

They have been very amenable. I had similar issues — I have a relationship, but I would like to not name her. I want to keep her out of the press. That is my commitment to her. It’s off the table. I joined this process. She did not.

There was a lot of filming in the home, and it was just exhausting. It’s so disruptive. They were very open to reducing that exposure and not having so much “home time.” My son is prepping for college. It’s a very intense time.

Testing the waters of what you can say “no” to is just something you have to do.

There was a bit of pushback from your castmates, and probably some audience members, too, about your being protective of your personal life. Do you expect that to be the case again?

Yeah, I do. I will say there are kids involved, and so I don’t care what anybody else says. As an adult, it’s my responsibility to protect them as much as I possibly can.

Jessel (Taank), Erin (Lichy) and Sai (De Silva) are all mothers, and I think Brynn (Whitfield) and Ubah (Hassan) are very sensitive. Ubah also has a relationship that I think she wants to keep very private. There’s an understanding: When children are involved, it’s just a different conversation.

I do see this big, honking ring on your finger, which I think you’ve been asked about before. But you don’t want to say whether you’re engaged?

This is a very serious answer: She kept telling me, “Jenna, your shirt is buttoned down too low.” And I was like, “If you want me to button my shirt, you have to put a ring on my finger.”

And look at you, you’re wearing a T-shirt today.

Well, I just worked out.

There was a lawsuit in March that called the “Housewives” environment “a rotted workplace culture” and made a lot of allegations about alcohol and drug use. What was your reaction when that came out?

I have literally had nothing but the most respectful, healthy relationship with the team that filmed our show. I was never encouraged, ever, to do anything like that.

I feel terrible for the people who are involved. It’s such a hard experience to watch people go after each other. That wasn’t the culture of our crew.

You and Ubah were clear, too, about not drinking on the show. Are you still not going to drink in the second season?

Yeah. There were other people who were drinking, and I never saw anyone encouraged to take another drink.

Are you still sober?

It hasn’t been a total straight line, but I will definitely put that on lockdown while we’re filming, for sure.

Are there any other reasons you wanted to return to the show?

I did it for personal reasons, for my business. But I will say, what is consistently surprising to me, and such a tender moment, is the number of people that either DM or come up to me on the street and are like, “It’s amazing to see an openly gay woman on national television being themselves.”

I know that seems trite. It’s not the reason I’m doing it, and I wouldn’t lie to you and say that it is. I don’t think I’m here to be the spokesperson. That has been a really nice side effect of the show.

Do you get paid more the second season?

Everyone gets paid more, and that I’m not going to talk about too much. [She laughed.]


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