Stylist Jen Principe Extends Her Reach with the Phoenix Effect and a New Book
When dress up feels divine.
To see LA stylist Jen Principe today, with a twinkle in her eyes and a quick smile, always impeccably attired and coiffed, you’d think she grew up in a household of privilege. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Her parents separated when she was a baby, and Jen experienced neglect and physical abuse from a stepmother.
She says she learned to be clever with her survival tactics. If she was hungry, she went on a scavenger hunt, gathering snacks from Woodland Hills neighbors. If she was scared or needed to get away from the house, she played dress-up in whatever she could find. She continued to play dress-up amid piles of donated clothes at the Jewish Federation in Boyle Heights, where she went with her grandmother on weekends.
“Even then, I knew there was an energy to these old pieces,” Jen shares. “I was a kid, so I’d fantasize and imagine who had worn them.”
Jen left home at age 18 and joined the working world as a successful mortgage broker. Over the course of many years, she untangled some of her childhood trauma, healing through forgiveness and humility.
“There have been so many psychological studies that support the fact that what we wear can transform the way we feel, how we perform tasks, how we behave.”
She got married and had two sons, and once the kids were a bit older, her passion for fashion reemerged. She put together what she calls a personal look book—a binder of photographs of head-to-toe outfit options culled from her own closet. She felt she was on to something, so she made look books for a few friends, and helped them shop for key pieces that were missing. Others began asking for her services, and a business was born.
Ten years later, Jen has styled for clients who range from celebrities to stay-at-home moms. The biggest reward, she says, is seeing that look of joy on someone’s face once they see themselves transformed by her vision.
“There have been so many psychological studies that support the fact that what we wear can transform the way we feel, how we perform tasks, how we behave,” Jen says. “I have seen the transformation with every one of my clients.”
One day while Jen was on a run, she experienced a sort of divine intervention: What if she could do more with this gift she had been given? A friend of hers had mentioned visiting a young girl fighting cancer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Jen envisioned styling this child, Zoey, lifting her spirits and offering a moment of beauty and respite.
Zoey was the first of many girls and women whose spirits Jen would raise through what became The Phoenix Effect. The nonprofit aims to support people impacted by trauma—from a teenager struggling through the foster care system to a girl in a wheelchair who has undergone more than 70 surgeries. With donations raised entirely by Jen, selected recipients are transformed from head to toe for a magical photo shoot with a professional photographer. Jen orchestrates all the details, from hair and makeup to clothing and accessories and scene setting.
“This metaphor of the phoenix is so important—it is the legendary story of rising and birthing a stronger self. This work is why I think I’m here on this earth.”
With a life so full of stories, it is no wonder Jen put pen to paper and wrote a book. A Common Thread, which Jen describes as her fashion memoir, debuted in June. In it, Jen weaves together personal stories from her life, interspersed with styling advice. She hopes that her story will inspire others to reflect on and share their own.
“I want people to know that trauma is not a destination,” Jen says. “If we are vulnerable with others, we can overcome hard things. We really do need each other for stability, and to grow and connect.”
To learn more about Jen and The Phoenix Effect, go to jpstyles.com