Exclusive: Jessica Simpson on Entering Her Icon Era, New Music and Her Brand’s ‘Billion’-Dollar Outlook for 2024

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On Nov. 29, Jessica Simpson will be honored with the Icon Award at the 37th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Nov. 27 print issue about how she charted a path to icon status by always being herself.

Jessica Simpson is giddy.

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Positively bouncing off the virtual walls of Zoom — if that is possible. The camera’s off, but it doesn’t matter. The intonation and signature hint of drawl in her voice are effervescent as ever.

The star immediately launches into a conversation about a flight to Nashville. She has been recording music there recently, after temporarily relocating her family to the city from Los Angeles last summer.

“It’s like a retreat for me. I get to just crawl up inside my head and embrace my heart,” she says. “I feel so enlightened there. Writing music has become a beautiful therapeutic thing for me that I didn’t know was so natural, but it’s because I haven’t done it in so long. It’s just nice to know that I’m meeting myself back in this place, as a woman, and after going through everything that I’ve been through in my life. There’s a sense of freedom and empowerment.” The singer says she has more than 400 poems recorded in her journals from the past few months.

The studio as sanctuary is a familiar trope for any musician, but it has taken the singer through some of her tougher years. She recorded her 2006 album, “A Public Affair,” after a very public divorce from Nick Lachey. It’s also where she went as she was getting sober, reconciling with her father and pondering what to write in her 2020 memoir, “Open Book.” That both of those titles allude to a boundary-less presence in the public sphere is no coincidence. Simpson has always worn her heart — and her inner monologue — on her sleeve.

The new music (set to release in early 2024, with a tour to follow) will undoubtedly add fuel to the fire of current Y2K nostalgia, bringing her millennial followers closer to those halcyon afternoons of the MTV “TRL” era. It also will be a chance to reintroduce Simpson as a music artist, given that a generation of fans know her more for her shoes than as a pop star who broke onto the scene in 1999 at 19 years old. Or, for that matter, as the 22-year-old reality TV wife from “Newlyweds,” the pioneering 2003 MTV series that predated “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and the “Real Housewives.”

Jessica simpson
Jessica simpson

When she launched the Jessica Simpson Collection in 2005 with a footwear licensing deal with shoe legend Vince Camuto, the star was at the apex of her aughts-era fame. Celebrity fashion deals were coming fast and furious at the time: Gwen Stefani had just launched her L.A.M.B. label, Jennifer Lopez was expanding her reach, Beyoncé’s House of Dereón was in its infancy. Everyone had a perfume license.

Simpson’s foray into fashion and footwear could have easily gone the way of those other brands, fading out with the news and promotional cycles. But as the star remained gossip rag fodder for her various relationship or weight statuses during the ensuing years, the silver lining of all that scrutiny was an exponentially growing business that famously pushed the brand into billion-dollar territory in 2015.

“An icon is someone who is not afraid to take risks. And often, their choices don’t make sense in the immediate, but they’re part of an enlightened understanding of the big picture. It’s someone who transcends a particular time or place and defines a moment.”

Jessica Simpson

The venture’s more recent headlines have followed Simpson and her mother Tina (the brand’s co-founder) as they have navigated buying back the company in its entirety from former partner Sequential Brands Group in 2021, putting in everything they’ve got to rebuild the business into what it used to be.

“The most rewarding thing is knowing everything we do is now for us and our team,” says Simpson. “We’re doing everything. We’re making every investment and putting forth all effort, every sacrifice. It’s for the brand.”

The feel-good comeback story has also landed the star in the crosshairs of today’s clashing messages of women’s empowerment and a fresh round of body and beauty scrutiny in the Ozempic era. It’s familiar territory for a tabloid veteran like Simpson — but now, some 20 years later, she gets to wear the “icon” badge. The music artist, entertainer and entrepreneur has been pondering the oft-used word lately, especially as she is set to receive the Icon Award at this year’s FN Achievement Awards.

Jessica Simpson
Jessica Simpson

“An icon is someone who is not afraid to take risks,” she starts out. “And often, their choices don’t make sense in the immediate, but they’re part of an enlightened understanding of the big picture. It’s someone who transcends a particular time or place and defines a moment.”

To stop right there would sum it up well for Simpson. But the discussion continues at length and quickly turns meta, meandering into the spiritual (“an icon is always aligned in their purpose”), the inspirational (“I feel like a lot of people need to believe in themselves more, that they can be iconic”) and the just plain honest (“It’s rare when an icon comes along, because so many people are just controlled by fear”).

Simpson was inevitably also thinking of the question at her FN cover shoot in L.A. in October, as the artist spent the day running through a set of looks inspired by a certain type of beauty icon: the blonde bombshell. With Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield and Ann-Margret as her glamour guides, the star moved through a series of looks with tousled hair, midcentury-esque frocks and the requisite pinup pout.

jessica simpson
jessica simpson

The comparison to other famous blondes is nothing new for Simpson. When the Texas native released her first album in 1999, she was instantly likened to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, the Mickey Mouse Club members she did not get to join after she self-admittedly froze up during the audition. Even today, there are mistaken identities; she revealed that last month a fan asked for her autograph, thinking she was Spears.

“I was up against a lot of other blondes, a lot of competition,” Simpson says of her early years, particularly when she made the decision to film “Newlyweds” with MTV. “Back then it was, if you’re not No. 1, you’re nothing. But then I realized, I don’t have to be No. 1. I can be something without being that.”

While Simpson says she’ll never return to reality TV — and the genre’s notorious editing — she is exploring a docuseries option.

“My younger self definitely cared and wanted to be accepted. I had to grow up in the business. Words can hurt. But it’s the icons who stay. Because they don’t believe it. They know that their purpose is bigger.”

Jessica Simpson

She is also taking cues from her family, particularly her eldest daughter Maxwell, now 11. “She is very much into the glow-up stuff, how to better yourself. I had to have her explain it to me the other day, because I thought it was literally putting highlighter on her cheeks,” Simpson says. “She said, ‘Mom, no, it’s your inner glow and how to glow up everything in your life.’ Wow, that’s a beautiful concept. If that’s what you’re learning on TikTok, keep going — but just know, those are all filters.”

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Jessica Simpson photographed by Camraface on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles. Camraface

While the star has certainly explored the beauty industrial complex before (remember her globetrotting VH1 show “The Price of Beauty” in 2010?), she doesn’t think too much of beauty iconography — blonde or otherwise — when it comes to her own life and career these days.

“My younger self definitely cared and wanted to be accepted. I had to grow up in the business. Words can hurt. But it’s the icons who stay. Because they don’t believe it. They know that their purpose is bigger,” she says. “I’m not here searching for what could make an impact or an iconic moment. I set out to be vulnerable, honest, authentic.”

jessica simpson
jessica simpson

Both Simpson and her mother attribute the brand’s success to this philosophy. “She’s been really true to her word and true to her style,” said Tina, who now directly oversees the 51 licensed categories the company holds, working with their team of eight women, all of whom have been at the brand since nearly the start. “She’s been very consistent to who she is as a person, and I think that is more of what an icon is, somebody who represents themselves well.”

From the beginning, the brand’s DNA has relied heavily on the star’s totems of iconography — and a sense of homegrown relatability. Simpson and Camuto launched the Jessica Simpson Collection with a red cowboy boot, a nod not only to her cameo as Daisy Duke in the 2005 “Dukes of Hazzard” film but also an homage to Simpson’s cousin, Sarah, who died unexpectedly when the star was 15.

It’s that unique mix of vulnerability and confidence — plus an innate sense of off- the-cuff comedic timing — that has carried the star through to today. It’s a recipe that younger celebs and influencers might look to, particularly in the age of meticulously- planned self-branding and overnight social media success stories.

“There are little successes that we celebrate along the way. It’s not just one grandiose moment,” says Simpson. “Just staying in the process, instead of feeling as if something’s completely accomplished, is almost more important.”

jessica simpson
jessica simpson

She and Tina are certainly putting in the real work at the brand, which is headed for even more expansion. More international licenses are planned for next year, including the Middle East, Mexico, Central and South America and Australia, plus ventures into menswear, boy’s and hair care. According to Tina, sales are expected to return “upwards to $1 billion” in 2024.

The family matriarch said that being a successful entrepreneur means not being afraid to ask questions. “For me, it’s worked to not come off as a know-it-all,” said Tina. “I listen a lot, then I make my decision. Because I know strongly what’s right and what’s best for us.”

For Simpson, it all comes down to authenticity. “It wouldn’t be as exciting if we just felt like we’ve succeeded,” says the star. “What makes us successful is staying true to who we are.”

Jessica Simpson photographed on Oct. 18 at PMC Studios in Los Angeles. Photographer: Camraface. Style Director: Shannon Adducci. Stylist: Natalie Saidi. Makeup: Joyce Bonelli. Hair: Jessie Holiday. Prop Stylist: Skye Whitley-Guzmán. Editorial Assistant: Tara Larson.

For 37 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The 2023 event is supported by sponsors Authentic Brands Group, Birdies, Caleres, Crocs, FDRA, Nordstrom, Saucony and Vibram.

Launch Gallery: Jessica Simpson Poses for FN Magazine Cover: See the Photos

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