After avoiding the spotlight for much of the past two years while giving birth to her two children, Jessica Simpson is stepping out in a major way this spring.
Earlier this month, the celebrity-turned-fashion designer proudly shared a sneak peek of her latest Weight Watchers ad, showcasing her post-pregnancy weight loss. Simpson also is starring in a series of new ads to promote her eponymous fashion collection, which now houses 30 categories. The campaign, shot by Ellen von Unwerth in Los Olivos, Calif., launched last month and is officially rolling out in March magazines.
“Ellen is so incredibly talented and she brings a great energy to the set,” said Simpson, creative director of the brand. “I’m very proud of what we’ve built, so to have everyone on set with our clothes and accessories made it such a fulfilling day.”
It’s been quite a ride for Simpson and business partner Vince Camuto since the two first teamed up in 2005.
“We started with shoes, and Vince always believed we could take it much bigger,” said Simpson. “2015 is our 10-year anniversary. It’s exciting.”
And Camuto felt an instant connection, too. “I knew Jessica was special from the first time I met her. We share a passion for business, family and great design,” he said.
This year, Simpson will expand her apparel offering with a new maternity activewear line, produced in partnership with Destination Maternity Corp. She also will debut bedding with Peking Handicraft Inc.
Simpson is branching out in the home category, too, with a collection of kitchen and bath towels through a deal with 1888 Mills. “I love home décor, so I am thrilled to share that line with our customers,” she said.
Additionally, the $1 billion brand will broaden its swimwear line to include women’s plus sizes and tween items.
In a sea of celebrity lines — many of which have failed — Simpson believes there are several factors that have helped her stand out from the rest of the pack.
“We are an all-American brand that all different kinds of women across America and the world can wear,” said Simpson. “We offer something for everyone — its not just limited to one certain fashionista. Women of all shapes, sizes and pocketbooks can enjoy our products. That is something that has always been very important to me.”
Camuto noted that Simpson’s hands-on approach has been key to its success at retail.
“She has a keen insight into what her customers want: exceptional value,” he said. “She is committed to developing a vision and [is involved in everything] from selecting materials to determining the prints and styles that work best for a woman’s body.”
For Simpson, another critical part of the equation has been her family’s extensive involvement in the venture.
“My business is my family. My sister Ashlee works with us on the line, and I’ve built the collection alongside my mother, Tina. She’s been an inspiration my entire life,” she said. (Ashlee Simpson currently serves as co-creative director of the Jessica Simpson girls’ line, which offers teen and tween apparel.)
After working with Camuto for nearly a decade, she considers him part of the family, too.
“Vince is an inspiration in so many ways. He’s a savvy businessman, he’s a family man and we share a passion about design and great products,” she said. “We work with every single item in our line four or five times before it hits shelves. That attention to detail is so important, especially as the line continues to grow.”
A focus on strong design and quality has been essential to the brand’s growth, according to Marc Beckman, co-founder and CEO of DMA United, a New York-based talent and brand management firm.
For fall ’14, the collection is more dressed up, with strappy pumps and booties with lace-up, stretch and harness details, plus an array of colors and patterns, from rich rosy hues to plaid. (The line, which retails for $79 to $200, is stocked at Macy’s, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Belk and Lord & Taylor, among many others. All told, it has more than 2,500 points of distribution globally across all categories, with footwear as the largest business driver.)
“We are seeing a trend toward dress styles, especially ladylike silhouettes,” said Christine Fuchs, president of Jessica Simpson footwear. “Single-sole styles have been strong this year, and we anticipate the trend will continue going forward. However, we will still [highlight] Jessica’s personal style.”
“I am a platform girl through and through,” Simpson said of her own shoe preference.
And retailers have taken notice. “Jessica Simpson stays true to her brand identity and DNA,” said Tracy Peck, group VP and DMM of women’s shoes for Macy’s. “She was one of the few vendors that continued to develop and sell platform pumps when the rest of the market shifted into single soles.”
Simpson, who is refreshingly honest and approachable, will hit the road again this year to promote the line through upcoming store appearances at Macy’s and Dillard’s for fall, plus a “home for the holidays” event at Belk in Dallas.
“It’s one of my favorite things to meet my fans and customers personally,” she said. “To see how they style the line and how they open up is so inspiring to me.”
Simpson recalled a favorite encounter with a consumer a few years ago during a time when the media “was being really hard” and criticizing her weight.
“A woman came up and said she was a teacher and that I was her students’ favorite artist. Many of them said I was inspiring them to be strong and get through the bullying and difficulties they had going on in their own lives,” she remembered. “My eyes welled up with tears. I was so proud to have inspired her students.”
At the end of the day, Simpson said she takes her business success one day at a time.
“I don’t like to set big resolutions. I find that what works best for me is to set small goals. I actually learned it from Weight Watchers,” she said. “If you set a small goal each week or month, you can pretty easily achieve it and then feel empowered to achieve the next goal.”