Combining the crave-worthy chic of Gwyneth with a focused idealism, Jenné Lombardo, director of New York's Made Fashion Week, wants nothing less than to change how collections are presented in the city.

Jenné Lombardo,
Jenné Lombardo, a founder of MADE Fashion Week near Milk Studios, where the collections are held.

It was the early 1990s when Jenné Lombardo was trawling the thrift stores of Cleveland, her hometown, with her, clearly, patient mother. “She was a natural lady, who was never really interested in fashion or beauty—she preferred gardening,” Lombardo laughs. “So from the get-go, it was instilled in me to create my own looks.” Mrs. Lombardo would indulge her daughter’s clotheshorse-like obsession, taking her hunting for cast-offs to help re-create the grungy styles then igniting the catwalk. Then one day, rifling through the Midwest’s haul of plaid and dirty denim, she saw grunge princess Courtney Love just feet away. To Lombardo, it was a sign she’d found her own nirvana: fashion. The ambitious Midwestern teen set her sights on New York City—and 20 years later, that sighting proved prescient. Today, Lombardo is downtown’s most successful (and affable) It girl.

Lombardo’s prominence among fashion insiders stems from her role helping to create MADE Fashion Week; though her official title is executive director and curator, it’s better to think of her simply as New York’s Queen of Cool. Along with cofounders Mazdack Rassi and Keith Baptista, Lombardo has helped reimagine how fashion designers can show and sell their collections via MADE. Conventional Fashion Weeks expect designers to bear the cost of planning and executing shows; at this alternative program, staged inside Chelsea’s Milk Studios and the Meatpacking Distict’s Standard hotel, sponsors offset those overheads. It’s mutually beneficial, connecting household brands with emerging talents while allowing those starting out an unmatched PR and sales platform. Every season, it’s Lombardo who channels fashion’s zeitgeist and assembles the roster that will show. After 10 seasons, her talent-spotting record is impressive.

Jenné Lombardo with MADE cofounders Mazdack Rassi and Keith Baptista.
Jenné Lombardo with MADE cofounders Mazdack Rassi and Keith Baptista.

Take Joseph Altuzarra, who showed his first couple of collections under Lombardo’s aegis; this year, after securing investment from Gucci owner Kering, he snagged womenswear designer of the year at the CFDA awards, fashion’s answer to the Oscars. Which designers did he beat to that accolade? Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang—the latter of whom had also received MADE’s boosterish support when he began designing. Lombardo recalls a notorious afterparty she helped brainstorm for the designer’s show in September 2009; it was held in a gas station and included a performance by none other than Courtney Love.

“I remember seeing thousands of people trying to get in and I couldn’t quite believe what we had created. I was thinking I hope we got all the gasoline out of the tanks, and that this doesn’t explode.” An early Hood by Air show was another MADE moment. “People were sitting in the audience and their eyes were watering. It felt like New York, at least from a fashion perspective, had come alive again. It was like the ’80s in New York, when creativity was at an all-time high.”

Lombardo with Kendrick Lamar at a MADE Fashion Week party.
Lombardo with Kendrick Lamar at a MADE Fashion Week party.

It’s easy to see how lithe blonde Lombardo became the beloved fairy godmother to these fledgling fashion types, combining the crave-worthy cool of Gwyneth with a dreamy idealism; she’s part cheerleader, part drama geek. Lombardo doesn’t lack hustle, though—her first jobs in Manhattan included receptionist at a gym and street saleswoman for salon packages. She then worked on the business side of magazines like Interview and Tina Brown’s ballyhooed belly flop Talk. It was the publisher there, Ron Galotti, who first offered her a chance.

“He hired me as the publisher’s assistant and said, basically, ‘If I don’t fire you, and you don’t mess up, I’ll give you the job you’re looking for.’ ” Lombardo parlayed that access into a management role with makeup brand MAC, where she ring mistressed campaigns with Lady Gaga and Debbie Harry. MAC was sponsoring a nascent new fashion week downtown, offering free makeup for the backstage stations to help offset costs. That association evolved organically into the project now known as MADE. “It was completely irrational,” she laughs, “Rassi was getting married and I was pregnant.”

She still multitasks. She’s not only a mom—Lombardo has three children, Valentino, Roxy, and Bowie, whose father is celebrity hairstylist Ric Pipino and whose names are tattooed on her arm—she’s also a consultant for brands via her Terminal Presents company. It specializes in marketing to millennials. “Companies are still trying to dictate to consumers what they think they need, when in fact they need to stop and listen,” she explains. “Make them feel like they’re the ones discovering it. Anything force-fed? They’ll reject it.” She’s already helped firms such as Target, Westfield, and W Hotels. One much-craved client, though, still eludes her. “I’ve been trying to work with Dolly Parton for years,” Lombardo says. “She has a beautiful, clear point of view for anybody that doesn’t come from a lot of means and makes something of themselves.” Much the same could be said of Lombardo.

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