Jenné Lombardo has made her living from bucking convention. After moving to New York to study at FIT, Jenné was living on donated peanut candy bars and oranges until she dropped out of college to dance at the legendary nineties club Twilo. Fueled by a deep commitment to self-reliance, Jenné clawed her way to the top of the fashion world, where she’s now a most influential tastemaker and presence.
Aside from founding The Terminal Presents and MADE Fashion Week, Jenné is a mother of three, and a hard-core gym rat. Jenné still hits the town with elegance and remains committed to a better, more empowered world. In short, Jenné Lombardo is the kind of woman the world thinks of when they imagine New York City. CONVICTS recently caught up with Jenné in her Bowery apartment. We got her word on everything from her hometown of Cleveland, to the power of a brutal workout, to the uselessness of people-pleasing.
Hey, Jenné. To start, can you tell us about Cleveland, Ohio?
I am really proud to be from Cleveland. I had a great upbringing, I grew up right on one of the Great Lakes. People don’t realise how beautiful the Great Lakes are. I had a really humble upbringing, and being from the midwest, people are just a lot nicer and really respectful.
What was school like for you?
I went to an all girls private school, which was really incredible for me as a woman, and later as a business woman, because I wasn’t afraid to participate. I wasn’t shy around boys. I’ve been really empowered throughout my life and I always felt like I had a seat at the table.
How did growing up in Cleveland influence your path?
When you are from Cleveland, you have a choice. You stay in Cleveland or you go to LA, Chicago, or New York. For me it was always New York, without a doubt. I used to read Paper Magazine from cover to cover — this is like pre-internet era, I didn’t grow up with access to anything beyond magazines — and I wanted to be Lady Miss Kier from Deee-Lite and wear big platform shoes and red fake eyelashes and dance. And I did that. I moved here and I danced at Twilo, and went to school.
Right on. Tell us about the Twilo years.
I was living in a dorm at FIT when I dropped out of college because I couldn’t afford to pay for school, pay for living. I was incredibly skinny though, which was amazing. I could only afford to eat oranges and had to walk everywhere. The newsstand guy across from my job felt so bad for me that he would give me free peanut candy bars. My dad was like, “You can survive off of peanuts and oranges, you’ll be fine”, so I did that for weeks on end. But my roommate was a dancer at Twilo, so she was saying “you should do it, we get to go out”. So we would get dressed up and just get paid to dance in a club.
What about your family growing up, did they nurture that confidence as well?
I have great parents. When I was growing up, my dad would say ‘Make sure that you know a little bit about every topic.’ He would bring home magazines on science or finance so I always knew a little bit about everything. I’m not a master in any area, but I’m really good at hanging out.
Hanging out is an underrated life skill. What about your family now?
I have three amazing kids. They are at that incredible age where they still need you but are also independent. I have them every other week, so I get two weeks out of the month that I don’t have them. There are pluses and minuses to that. It’s cool for a few days, but then I feel vacant and sad and lonely.
Did your family have any tough times when you were younger or was it a fairly smooth upbringing?
I had a pretty good upbringing, but financially my parents lost their money and a lot of the things that go with it. So from a really young age, I’ve known that if I don’t provide for myself, no one will. If I don’t show up for myself then no one is going to show up for me, and no money is going to come in. I have always been scared. I think that you have got to also be able to put yourself out there. The word fail got such a bad rap. It needs a marketing campaign, because for me failing means that you tried, and that path wasn’t where you were meant to go but you showed up and you put yourself out there. That to me is a success story. People that don’t show up and aren’t willing to take risks are complacent and boring and safe. I don’t know what safe means because I am a risk taker and I fail all the time, but I try.
Do those failures get you down?
I feel lousy all the time. I go through moments and feel lost and confused and just don’t want the responsibility and that scares me. It terrifies me.
How do you fight back from that?
Sometimes I’ll have a cry, and then I’m like ‘Bitch, you better get the fuck up because you don’t have a choice. It’s not an option.’ Working out sets me straight, it’s like a big slap in the face.
Let’s talk fitness. How do you approach fitness, how important is it, and what’s your mindset when you are in a workout?
You have to love yourself first before you can love anybody else and that’s a form of therapy for me. When people say things like, ‘I don’t have time to workout,’ I think, ‘You don’t have time, you make time.’ Figure it out if it’s important to you.
What do your workouts look like?
I am not a yoga or pilates person. Most of the workouts that I do are really hard, physically crushing. So when I think I can’t complete a part of the workout or I can’t go any longer, I try to get out of my head and think that our bodies are so much stronger than we think and it’s our minds that manipulate that. The pain of working out is temporary, but the gains are so much more. I feel blessed everyday that I get to be on this planet another day, so I’m not going to fuck up the body that I have been given. There are people that would give anything to have what a lot of us have, so I want to try and take care of it as best I can.
What about social media, how does that tie into your life? Do you treat it as an extension of your personality?
I think social media is interesting. I go back and forth on what is the purpose of this platform. Sometimes it’s just to be funny, sometimes it’s to see pretty things, and sometimes it’s to spread a message of what I have learnt. I am super unapologetic in life in general, but I’ve recently stopped eating meat for the last 8 or 9 months, and I have done that because I educated myself. I have educated myself to a point that I can no longer ethically support consuming meat and dairy. I’m not a martyr and I’m not perfect and I don’t f%$#king think anybody is. I’m not looking to poke holes in anybody and I don’t want anybody to poke holes in me, because you could find them. If I participate on this planet in a positive way and help make it a better place for my kids’ future, if I just help change one life, then I’ve done a good job.
Talk about more about your unapologetic side. Why is that important?
I am very unapologetic. It would be exhausting to try to be a person that everybody thinks that I am or wants me to be. I can only be myself and otherwise it is just not true to who I am. It’s a great filter too because I know the people that in my life, we love each other. If people have problems with me, then that’s their problem more than it is mine. I am always working on myself. I am always trying to change, I am always trying to be better than I was yesterday. I am just doing my best.
Talk about your work a bit. You have so much going on, how do you make decisions about your projects?
In terms of my decision making process, it’s become a lot clearer as I have gotten older and had children. With limited amounts of time, you have to exercise your ability to say no and set boundaries. That’s really important. I am constantly doing different audits of my life and if people and jobs and opportunities aren’t serving me, then it’s not right. I am a gut girl, if it doesn’t feel good, it’s not right. So I think that I make decisions fairly quickly. You have to be decisive.
Has that always been the case?
I have always been a really decisive person. Except when it comes to food when I’m starving, then I’m completely fucked and I have no idea and I want it all and everybody sucks. I have always known what I’ve wanted and I’ve been really focused on getting it.
What do you want now? What is still satisfying you?
Now I want to enter a place of stability, financial stability, where I can own something and look at and think ‘Wow I earned this, it’s mine.’ I am working to launch a women’s and girl’s underwear line and media platform for girl ages fourteen to twenty-six. That has all of my heart in it and I want that to be a raging success. And I believe that it will be.
Right on, thanks for your time Jenné. We look forward to seeing what comes next.