For Jess Lee, CEO of stylish social commerce website Polyvore, this hooded Helmut Lang jacket is more than just a stunning piece—it's a symbol of the San Francisco-based company's growth and of her own hard work, as well as that of her colleagues.
How did this amazing jacket come into your life? "I bought the jacket on a trip to New York, I go out there every three or four months to visit Polyvore's New York office. Our office is in Soho, right in the middle of all these amazing shops and boutiques of all the brands featured on Polyvore that I see all the time on the site but don't have access to out here. So I was wandering around Soho and visiting the Helmut Lang store, and I just was struck by the realization of how far Polyvore had come. So I had this moment of, 'Wow, we've come so far!' I saw the jacket, and I was like, 'You know what, I'm just going to buy it. I'm going to treat myself.' And it's [become] a jacket I wear all the time. I remember that moment, it has some special meaning, it's kind of tied to the growth of Polyvore."
So it represents a milestone; all your hard work to get to this place? "So many years, blood sweat and tears. It's a symbol of that growth, that I was in New York in the first place. We came from Silicon Valley, and tech; we literally used to be five people in a living room. The jacket represents the success of how far we've come."
Do you remember the moment of buying it? "I saw it hanging there. I'd already seen it a couple of times on Polyvore. When I tried it on, I was like, 'I have to buy it…' Sometimes you have to pause, look around and appreciate how far you've come. That jacket definitely does that."
Anything else that makes this piece particularly interesting? "The second funny thing about the jacket is, I bought it, and I realized later that one of our earliest engineers, Cindy, had also bought the same jacket. The two of us have very similar tastes. And we had just begun working on personalization on Polyvore with the idea that we would find users with similar tastes and recommend similar products to each other based on what we call the 'Style Graph.' Whenever we were talking about the 'Style Graph,' I would always use me and Cindy as an example, in my slides, in my presentations, because everyone knows we dress in a similar way. It was funny that we were working on personalization and ended up buying the same jacket."
That is funny! How do you like to wear it? "In general, my style is almost like a uniform. Startups don't leave you with a lot of time. I'm always looking for areas where I can save time, so I generally wear a very monochromatic palette of black and white—very few colors. It's just easier to match things. But I don't want to look too plain, so I tend to go for things that are simple, monochromatic and have a couple of quirky or unique details like asymmetry or a cut-out, or I might wear a really unusual ring. Fairly simple, but there's something that stands out. What I love about this jacket is that it's got this draped front, but it also has a hood, and you don't usually see leather jackets with hoods. It's a basic leather jacket with this unique detail. So I throw it over everything! You'll normally find me in black jeans, some kind of black boot and then the top will vary and I'll throw the jacket over it and put on some scary-looking rings."
Do you ever dress the jacket up, or travel with it? "I have! I have worn it to a wedding over a cocktail dress. It makes it a bit more edgy. I just like how it looks. I have spoken on stage a couple of times wearing that jacket. It's perfect for the plane, it's my standard jacket to bring when I'm traveling. It's a nice smooth leather, it's kind of fleecy inside, so it's actually warm."
Since this piece represents all your hard work and Polyvore's success, can you share the story of how you joined the company? "I always knew that I wanted to do a startup. My mom was an entrepreneur and encouraged me in that direction. Prior to Polyvore I was a product manager at Google, and I was having a great time there. Then someone showed me Polyvore one day and I fell in love with it, I started using it all the time. Because I was a user and had some feedback, I wrote a note to the co-founders with some suggestions, product ideas and feedback. They wrote back and said, 'Why don't you join us.' So I did. And I ended up at Polyvore as their first product manager. And I certainly at that time didn't think I'd become CEO…I remember a lot of people thought I was crazy for leaving my happy stable job but I took the leap."
So how does the jacket make you feel when you put it on? "It makes me feel good. It's somehow empowering [because it] reminds me how far we've come."