Joyce Lee, VP of Design, Madewell


"Getting into design has actually been sort of a long path for me because it was something that I always wanted to do since I was young. When I was applying for colleges, my parents were hesitant in me studying only design, so they sort of guided me in a different way. I enrolled in economics but realized in my very first class that it was definitely not for me. I ended up finding a program in another school that was somewhat on the path to design. I transferred and studied the science of textiles and the marketing—I sort of got a good grounding of the industry that way. Internally I knew I needed to fulfill something creative.

After I graduated, I got an internship at Wallpaper magazine and lived in London for four months. I was exposed to all these amazing designers in the fashion closet, and I finally felt my dreams were coming true. That’s when I became obsessed with Marc Jacobs. At that point in his career he was blowing up with accessories and I felt I needed to work for him. It took me a lot to convince my mom, but I ended up finding an accessory and fashion design program in New York. I just blindly moved here without knowing anyone...but when you’re younger, you kind of have no fear or any thing to lose, so it was sort of just natural to me to just figure it out and find my way.

My teacher at FIT connected me with an intern at Marc Jacobs, but there wasn't anything available. I just kept calling, and after 3-4 months, they finally gave me an internship. I started in the bag department and then worked with the head footwear designer, Irene Chung. I felt that everything was sort of leading me there and was starting to happen. I just loved how accessories are almost like an object—functional, utilitarian and sculptural. After a year, I started freelancing for Madewell in 2005 for a few months—which was before it was even born. It was amazing to see the brand conceptualize. After that, I worked at Michael Kors full time, and then at Gryson, which was founded by my head of accessories at Marc Jacobs. My office was right down the block from the Madewell store and all of a sudden I thought how cool it would be to go back there. Literally that same day the HR recruiter called me to come in as the accessories designer. It was really crazy and meant to be. So I went back and haven’t looked back since—here I am 9 years later.

We actually just launched Madewell Beauty this week, but it feels like longer—it’s been in the works for a while for a long time. It’s based on what we feel our woman is looking for and who she is—starting from how she wakes up and how she puts herself together before getting dressed.

At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been the same person over the course of my adult life. That means feeling comfortable, and obviously feeling like my best self. And of course that starts with skincare. I have to say I am kind of lazy when it comes to this, so I keep it very simple and low maintenance. Because I have so much going on-putting my baby to sleep-I can’t be bothered to wash my face at night. So I actually use the Ursa Major Face Wipes to take off everything and then in my morning shower, I’ll use the little Binu Binu soaps. They’re little bar soaps for your face and they come in amazing packaging- I’ll use the charcoal or the clay-based one. Or I switch it up with the Grown Alchemist Gentle Gel Facial Cleanser—it really is so nice and gentle. I also love the Instant Beauty Tightener from Ren. It feels like you’re putting liquid egg whites on your face and you let it dry. As a day moisturizer, I’ll use a little of the Grown Alchemist Hydro Repair Day Cream. But at night, I only use The Vintner's Daughter. It’s just so pure and intense and you can really feel the whole botanical thing, it’s amazing.

I like to mask when I don’t feel rushed, and can actually spend some time in the shower. I really like the Blue Tansy Mask from Herbivore Botanicals. It refreshes my skin and makes me feel anew, and the color is just so great. I also like this super clean brand, Beautycounter. I use the Purifying Charcoal Mask—it’s super black and can be scary if it gets all over the place. There’s another mask I love—it’s from Dr. Brandt, a Microdermabrasion Exfoliator. It’s really gentle and makes you feel like you're doing something good.

I love a good body brush that I can just put product on and scrub a little. I use a curved bristle brush with the One Love Organics Body Scrub. They also have a really cute heart-shaped sponge for the face- I need to replace it but I love it. After that, I’ll put on a body oil, because I think it’s just so easy, and it smells good too. I’m a sucker for the Aesop Body Balm because of the smell. I also love the Lumiere Leman Body Oil from French Girl Organics. It’s really nice for when you’re more dry or the Daughter of the Land Oil on my face and body.

I rarely get around the bath stuff, but when I do, it is literally the biggest treat. I pretend I’m in a spa, light some candles, and pour a glass of wine. I really like the Spirit Lamp from D.S. & Durga and there’s one in my living room from Maison Louis Marie. My Madewell candles are so great. They come in different vessels—glass, ceramic, metal—so they become more of a home object. I love natural essential oil smells because I don’t like anything too perfume-y. I’ll use a diffuser to make it feel like a spa. Eucalyptus, bergamot, and of course lavender. Sometimes I just drop grapefruit oil in the shower so it steams up. For fragrance it's Le Labo or nothing. [Laughs] I really just love everything from them. I used to wear the Tokyo one, Gaiac 10, for years, but now I'm using the Bergamote 22.

I’m not into layering on lots of makeup. More reinforcing and enhancing the natural elements. Sometimes I’ll pay attention on set, because I like how they do the models very minimally. I really love how the Caudalie Beauty Elixir smells, so I will use that to set my makeup. For sunscreen I like the Aesop SPF 15, or the Anthelios from La Roche-Posay with SPF 50. Then I’ll use use this Beautycounter Skin Tint for a little light foundation. I love the Beauty Blender sponge, it's amazing! You just get it a little wet, and squeeze it, and it helps even everything out. I don’t usually use concealer but when I do it’s RMS Beauty “Un” Cover Up under my eyes and around my cheeks, where I get a tiny bit red.

Right now I’m using the Signature Set from RMS which is awesome because it has a luminizer, bronzer, lips to cheek stuff. I usually wear a bit of eyeliner on my top eyelids—I’ve been doing it for years. Lancôme is great, but the other one I used to use is the MAC Liquidlast Liner—it's super permanent and you can barely get it off. My favorite thing in the world is Glossier Boy Brow in Black—it really is perfect. My eyelashes are so straight so I really have to use an eyelash curler—mine is Shu Uemura. I actually really love the CoverGirl Lash Blast Fusion in Very Black. I just do the top lashes because when I do it on the bottom I feel like it just gets all over my face.

If I feel like I need a little bit of lip color, I like the Lip Tint from French Girl. I went through a phase where I wore red lipstick all the time. It’s was either Hjärta from Face Stockholm or Nars Dragon Girl. The Nars is a good one-I like the way the pencil goes on.

I like to joke that I get ready quicker than my husband. I literally just jump in the shower, wash my hair with the Aesop Shampoo and Conditioner, and then put in product to help with texture. I love Reverie's Milk Treatment, which comes in a pump and is really lightweight. It helps smooth and defrizz and that’s all I kind of want. Sometimes on days where it's rainy and extra frizzy, I’ll use the Rake Stylng Balm on the ends of my hair. It’s heavyweight and smells amazing, but it's not sticky, I can’t stand anything that’s sticky or waxy. Elizabeth, who owns WhiteRoom has cut my hair for years since she was at Woodley and Bunny. She always does the same thing and cuts little layers. My hair has changed over time-it used to be stick straight but it’s become more textured. I’m very lucky because it works with my lifestyle too.

I am a sucker for a massage, that’s probably where I would spend most of my time and money. Have you guys ever tried Zeel? It’s an at home massage app, where you can request a massage when you want and it’s just $120. It's great. I am also a sucker for a Chinese massage—there’s a place right here in Williamsburg called Greenway Spa, and it’s just $60 for an hour. I sometimes go to Pratima for a massage and facial. I always get a chair message when I’m doing a mani-pedi, because why wouldn't you get a chair massage there?"

—as told to ITG

Joyce Lee photographed by Tom Newton on October 26, 2017.