More than a hands-on designer, each new stage of Jessica Simpson’s life is reflected in her fashion collection, and during the past year, her experiences have been truly life-changing. These milestones have included motherhood to daughter Maxwell Drew, born in May, and a second child due this summer, the growth of her eponymous fashion collection and a second season as a fashion mentor for up-and-coming designers on NBC/Universal’s hit reality show, “Fashion Star.”
This new season again features Simpson with fellow mentors Nicole Richie and John Varvatos helping a team of fashion designers – many of whom have their own lines but are looking to move to the next level in sales – create lines that will meet the practical criteria of a three-person panel of buyers from major fashion retailers.
A unique aspect of the show is that it is taped in advance, allowing for the immediate online availability for purchase of the fashions designed on the show. The program also provides significant exposure for the Jessica Simpson Collection, including one of its latest additions, a new maternity line.
Still the “billion-dollar baby” in retail sales, Simpson introduced a full collection of maternity apparel last September through an exclusive licensing agreement between Camuto Group, the master licensee behind the Jessica Simpson Collection, and Destination Maternity, the maternity apparel retailer. The success of the collection is already significant, as it is already available in over 800 retail locations, more than doubling its introductory distribution.
The Jessica Simpson Maternity collection is full of breezy, everyday pieces that are aimed at the modern mom-to-be who wants to maintain her fashion edge throughout her pregnancy. Finding the perfect balance between comfort and style was something Simpson, now on her second pregnancy, knows well. This season, flowing tops, dresses and on-trend denim are freshened up for the season with lace details, light airy fabrics, elegant florals and accents of neon for an aesthetic that is classic, feminine and cool.
“We feel we’re dressing the woman at every stage of her life,” asserts Leah Robert, senior vice president of licensing and marketing for Camuto Group. “The line is evolving. We really work hard to align the brand in an authentic way with what is happening in Jessica’s life. Nothing happens that is not connected to her personal and professional endeavors. It makes a lot of sense for us. The customer is very emotionally connected to her.”
Jessica Simpson runs her collection like a family. Her mother, Tina Simpson, acts as co-CEO, overseeing the entire collection with Jessica. When the Jessica Simpson Girls line was launched in December 2011, Jessica looked no further than her sister, Ashlee Simpson, for help designing for a younger group of girls. Initially introduced for tweens, toddler sizing followed for fall 2012. The collection now boasts sizes for kids ranging from 2T to 16.
As co-creative director of the line, Simpson’s sister Ashlee – this is their first fashion collaboration – adds what Jessica calls a “savvy rocker edge” to the line. Robert advises that Ashlee’s input “lends a different perspective. Jessica is the all-American girl next door and Ashlee has a downtown, bohemian sensibility.”
“It is such a joy to work side-by-side with my daughter,” Tina Simpson says. “We get to be so creative together and share a lot of laughs. Jessica is an amazing inspiration in all areas of life, so I feel completely blessed to have the privilege of creating with her. We also brought Ashlee into the business because she has such a savvy, trendy style and really understands the of-the-moment fashion that tween girls love. Overall, I am a very lucky lady to do what I love everyday with the people I love the most!”
Peggy Merck, director of public relations for the Jessica Simpson Collection/Camuto Group, agrees. “If you look at the way young girls are dressing today, they do have that edgier, more playful sensibility,” Merck observes. “They’re pairing patterns with a printed skirt and having more fun with fashion – and that’s exactly what Jessica and Ashlee wanted to inspire.”
The line interprets key styles and silhouettes from the juniors line plus unique designs exclusive to girls, including denim jeans (skinnys, boot cut, flares, colored jeans and shorts with leggings), knit tops, hoodies, pullovers, striped shrunken knits and a series of collectible graphic T-shirts.
Jessica Simpson Girls, Toddler and Tween apparel is produced and distributed by the Jones Group Inc., which also holds the license for Jessica Simpson Jeanswear and Sportswear. The team also is introducing Athleisure for fall 2013 as part of the lifestyle offering of the Jessica Simpson Collection.
Soon after daughter Maxwell Drew was born, Simpson says she realized she needed to add baby shoes to her collection. Around Mother’s Day, Simpson will introduce a collection of crib shoes licensed to Stride Rite by Camuto Group. The line will offer soft, whimsical silhouettes for babies, such as pink cheetah-print cowboy booties and satin Mary Jane shoes trimmed with bows and flower ornaments. The collection will be available in sizes 1 to 4. Jessica Simpson Baby joins the Stride Rite-produced children’s footwear line for young girls and tweens.
On deck for fall 2013 is the Athleisure collection. These will be true performance pieces made with fabric that wicks sweat away from the body during exercise, blended with yoga/leisure pieces including some stylized sweat pants and crossover pieces that are designed to blend with the collection and fit in the same pad as the existing offering at retail.
“Think sweatshirts that can be thrown on after a workout but still look great with denim,” Merck says. “A long sweatshirt dress you could pull over after exercise but would look cute on an afternoon out with a pair of flats.” The line also will include loungewear that can be worn around the house relaxing on the couch or combined with jeans for a more casual feel. While designing the line, Simpson drew from her experience and insight into weight loss – she famously followed the Weight Watchers program after the birth of her first child.
The versatility and practicality of her brand no doubt comes from Simpson’s humble roots growing up in Texas. Her mother, Tina, instilled in Jessica and Ashlee a practical fashion sense that they emphasize in the collection today. “Her mother taught her at a very young age how to make every outfit feel new and how to style an outfit with what you have in your closet,” Merck relates. “Eight years ago when we launched the collection, Jessica made sure the line was accessible to everyone, and that customers could shop for her clothing and accessories at the mall and still have money in their pocket.”
With a collection that now includes everything from active apparel to plus, maternity to baby, luggage to legwear and all of the fashion accessories in between, it’s clear that broad accessibility is key to the Simpson Collection. As Simpson embarks on the next chapter of her life, moving into a new home with her fiancé and preparing to welcome her second child, the brand is looking to lay down its roots in the home space as an area for expansion.
Simpson was excited to work with the designers who were selected for the second season of NBC/Universal’s hit reality show, “Fashion Star.” “I knew that they were going to take it up a lot of notches this year, and we also got to work with teams,” Simpson says in a “Fashion Star” video on the show’s website. “I get to really develop personal relationships with my designers and really talk back and forth with them more, and spend more time with them. I think that’s one of the biggest changes this year.”
The three mentors provide a variety of input to their teams of designers. Robert notes, “They have all become such champions for one another.” In her on-camera interview for NBC/Universal, Simpson agrees. “There’s a lot of amazing camaraderie, and we really support each other, even though it is a competition,” Simpson emphasizes. “We all three have a different design aesthetic – we style ourselves very differently. I think that we trust each other’s opinions, so we can be able to help our designers relate to the mass market.
“Size doesn’t matter,” Simpson insists. “So no matter what size you are, what size you wear, you know that you are going to have a piece of clothing that you can buy that week that will look good on you.”
Simpson sees several trends affecting fashions this spring. “This spring, it’s all about the high-low hems,” she declares. “It’s still about color blocking, print mixing – a woman really wants to show off her curves. She wants to show off her body, but in a really tasteful, classy way. I think the fit of the clothes is really important. So we try as designers and as mentors to help the designers with their fit and ensure their color choices are correct.”
That fashion sense is reflected in the clothes that are part of the Jessica Simpson Collection, and the show is a great vehicle to showcase the line. “It is amazing how much the consumers really resonate with who Jessica is and what she’s doing with this line,” Merck stresses. “To see her imparting the knowledge Jess brings to what women want to wear, what looks great on their bodies, leaves no question about the businesswoman she is.”
“There’s still so much growth potential for the brand,” Robert insists. “We are seeing so many opportunities in the marketplace for the brand to continue to grow. All the categories are really building from a collection standpoint, so we’re really excited.”