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Jessica Simpson: A Real, Live Girl

Her personal philosophy of approachability has helped propel her fashion business toward the $1 billion mark.

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Jessica Simpson in “That ’70s Show,” 2003.

Photo By Courtesy Everett Collection

Jessica Simpson in “Newlyweds,” 2003.

Photo By MTV/Everett Collection

“The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour,” 2004.

Photo By ABC/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection

“Nick & Jessica’s Family Christmas,” 2004.

Photo By ABC/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Special Report issue 03/28/2011

This is not Simpson’s first attempt at sportswear. Her first apparel license with Tarrant Apparel Group ended with a lawsuit between Camuto and Tarrant in 2006. The suit was settled, and Tarrant gave up the license.

Last fall, Simpson launched jeanswear with Jones. “The denim’s great. We didn’t expect it to be as big — the first quarter in denim was a shock to all of us,” she said. “After the first quarter in denim, we started working on the ready-to-wear. We have jeans that fit every body type. That’s extremely important to us. We just added plus sizes.”

As the business continues to grow, Simpson believes it’s imperative to keep a consistent image, and that’s why having approval rights is so critical.

“Image is the most important thing about someone’s career and longevity. I want to be around until I’m not around anymore and then some,” said Jessica. “We’ve been doing this for five years, but it feels like we’re just starting out because there’s always something new to work on, some new endeavor.”

Jessica and Tina approve every item that bears the Jessica Simpson name. “It’s a three-step process,” Tina explained. “We see it at the beginning design stage. We’ll give our inspiration and our color palette. And then, mid-design, they bring to us what they’re working on, and then we have final approval.”

“I was here for three days straight doing approvals for 10 hours a day, and that’s a lot,” said Jessica, noting that she approves the fit, fabrics, buttons, thread colors and zipper pulls. And she has backup from Mom.

 

“I couldn’t do this without my mom. We have the same eye,” she added.

“I think the biggest thing, too, is we just don’t walk in and put Jessica’s name on something and walk away,” said Tina.

Jessica piped in, “I’ll get mad if I see something with my name on it and I don’t like it. I’ll say, ‘Mom, did you approve that? I don’t like that. I never saw that, please tell me if you approved that.’ ”

“I’m accountable,” said Tina.

“We get along great,” said Jessica. “I feel like we’ve grown up together. Having a young mom has inspired my style.”

Although Tina didn’t have a fashion background, it seemed to come naturally to her. “It’s just something I was always passionate about,” she said. “I’ve always loved it. I actually was an aerobics instructor for 20 years. I was a [physical education] major in college, and I get to do this. This is really my dream.

“It’s a lot of work,” Tina added. “It’s a big love effort, too. This has taken over my life — it’s all I do at this point. Once we tackle apparel, one day we want to go into home. That’s my biggest passion.”

Fine jewelry and makeup are also possibilities.

 

“I’m all about makeup and skin care products,” said Jessica. “I’m a product junkie. But I also stick to what I love. If I can put that into an affordable price for my consumer, that would be great.”

The company recently launched prom dresses with David’s Bridal, produced by Simpson’s dress licensee, G-III. “We wanted to make sure that I would wear it on the red carpet,” said Jessica.

Based on volume, Simpson’s biggest business is footwear, followed by fragrance, jeanswear, handbags and jewelry.

Although Simpson is personally invested in all the fashion categories, certain ones she relates to better than others. “I’m always carrying a great handbag, so I definitely want to be involved with all those approvals. I love jewelry. I can artistically come at it with a fun, innovative mind-set,” she said. For example, she’ll show the designer a piece of vintage jewelry and work to incorporate it into the line, and keep it “younger and more accessible and approachable to the average everyday consumer.”

 

The Simpsons said they’d like to open their own freestanding stores, showcasing the entire range. They currently sell merchandise in 28 countries. Asked whose business she admires, Jessica didn’t hesitate — “Ralph Lauren.”

They work with Camuto Group’s design director, Phoebe Mackay, who ensures that all the licensees are on the same page. “She gets creative direction from us, and makes sure everybody has the same colors, the same aesthetic,” said Tina. For example, for fall, Simpson’s main themes that are evident throughout all her collections are Navajo Girls (fringe, Aztec details, shearlings); Hollywood Boho (velvets, distressed, florals) and Vanderbilt Girl (collegiate looks, leopard).

Running a fashion business has given Jessica a chance to indulge her other passion: shopping. “I love to vintage shop, personally. I buy all kinds of vintage pieces. In Los Angeles, there are certain stores that I love, and they’ll put certain things on hold for us, knowing that I’ll be wanting that Alaïa piece, for example. I also like shopping for vintage in places that nobody would. When I was shooting ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ in Louisiana, I’d find all these incredible pieces that I have archived. The other place is South Florida. Southern women are definitely a huge inspiration to us. We are Southern women. They always love to do it up and look fabulous at all times. It’s fun to grab cool, huge rhinestone pieces or fun brooches that you can make into a necklace.”

Jessica said she has no desire to design a more expensive collection. “We thought about it. All this looks expensive, and it doesn’t fall apart. I don’t think we need to go there. Making it affordable for everybody is really where we’re at.”

Ever since she was a young girl growing up in Richardson, Tex., Simpson has shown a flair for fashion. “I’ve always been into shoes since I was a kid. I’ve always been into high heels. I wish God would have given me three more inches,” said Jessica, who stands 5 feet 3 inches tall.

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