Jessica Simpson: ‘Even if I have to go live in a little, tiny place in Ireland, I will’

Jessica Simpson: ‘Even if I have to go live in a little, tiny place in Ireland, I will’

Jessica Simpson had severe bronchitis, and was on a breathing machine, while 34 weeks pregnant with her third child when she and her mother, Tina, decided to initiate a takeover bid. 

That was the beginning of a two-year battle for control of Simpson’s namesake brand — the rare celebrity line to break $1 billion in sales.

And Simpson says their resolve meant they even considered moving to Ireland: “We’ll borrow against our homes. Even if I have to go live in a little, tiny place in Ireland, I will.”

Jessica Simpson: “Suited to meet the best in the business licensing partners with exciting new categories for the Jessica Simpson Collection (@jscollection).” Picture:  @JessicaSimpson

When Simpson started the line in 2005, she was an improbable apparel mogul. The gospel-singing daughter of a Baptist pastor, she first surfaced on the pop-music scene in the 1990s, a new breed of sexy teen blond belters alongside Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Although she had the vocal chops, it was the pioneering 2003 hit MTV show Newlyweds, a voyeuristic romp through the then-23-year-old’s new marriage to her boy-band husband, Nick Lachey, that vaulted her into the pop-culture firmament. Those who’d written her off as merely a ditzy entertainer became converts. Her viral malapropisms, frank charm, and sexy Texas style drew an Instagram-like following years before the social platform even existed.

Jessica Simpson — Newlyweds on MTV helped launch her career

Almost two decades later, Simpson had reached the stage of celebrity where she was mostly famous for being famous.

After a divorce, she’d married former NFL player Eric Johnson, but over the years she’d developed an alcohol addiction. By 2017 the mother of two young children was carrying a glittery tumbler of vodka and flavoured Perrier everywhere, sipping from it mornings before school drop-off.

After a drunken Ellen appearance, followed by a blackout at a family Halloween party, she finally got professional help. In 2019 she was sober and had millions of actual Instagram followers, but she hadn’t recorded an album in almost a decade.

Jessica Simpson in Manhattan on June 8, 2009. Picture: Soul Brother/FilmMagic)

Simpson’s business had been one of the few constants. In 2005 she introduced a clothing brand for Middle America. Teens and their moms who wanted to dress like Jessica Simpson could suddenly afford to do so. Rather than build a company that actually made the stuff, she licensed her name to the best manufacturers out there, which then designed and produced the Jessica Simpson Collection’s products, including apparel, perfume, and handbags. Tina, who’d largely been a stage mom, ran the company, with the help of a shoe-business whiz who oversaw the licensing and took a stake in the business in 2005.

The formula not only worked, it outlasted the fashion lines started by many other celebrities — Mandy Moore, David Hasselhoff, even style maven Sarah Jessica Parker.

Jessica Simpson Elle magazine cover

Eventually, the brand did $1 billion at retail, with Simpson appearing on the cover of New York magazine as “The $1 Billion Girl,” surprising everyone that the seemingly not-too-bright singer was actually a very clever businesswoman.

“To put that figure in context,” the article read, “it means Jessica Simpson is doing roughly the same volume in sales as Michael Kors.”

Patience, passion, persistence, prayer, throwin’ curve balls and Hail Marys while remaining humbled by grace gave me back my power and my name. If this girl with a dream could do it, I know anyone can! Thank you @BW for the honor of an epic cover story I will be framing! pic.twitter.com/WFAJAuxHDC

— Jessica Simpson (@JessicaSimpson) January 5, 2022

But soon after her brand’s ascent was being hailed publicly, a slow unraveling began in boardrooms, on earnings calls, and on profit and loss sheets. In 2015, after the Simpsons’ business partner had died from cancer, they cut a deal with a different kind of company with a charismatic young chief executive officer who intended to expand the line into a “$2 billion to $3 billion operation,” as Women’s Wear Daily reported at the time. But the company, Sequential Brands Group Inc. — more of a licensing financial middleman than creative partner — was soon in over its head. By 2019 it had become clear to the Simpsons that Sequential was actually in deep financial trouble and had no intention of expanding their business. They were watching their empire slowly die.

Jessica Simpson at John Varvatos Boutique on April 13, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. Picture: Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Simpson knew her customers but says Sequential executives wouldn’t listen, brushing off her suggestions and calling her “irrelevant” — which cut to the core of her insecurities.

“I think they wanted to blame me,” she says. “They were making a lot of excuses, and I was the excuse because I didn’t have a movie out.” 

In that hospital bed, Simpson had finally had enough. 

“My name was on it,” Simpson says of her business. “I don’t ever move away from my name.”

So Simpson told Tina and another Collection executive to approach Sequential to buy back the brand. It would require two years of negotiating with the company, which eventually filed for bankruptcy and was forced to sell everything it owned for parts. 

Eventually, the Simpsons realised ‘We’ve got to buy this brand back’.

Then Covid-19 hit. 

Sequential filed for bankruptcy in August 2021 and began selling off its brands. In November a bankruptcy judge approved the Simpsons’ $65 million bid for Sequential’s majori

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