By  on March 28, 2011

Jessica Simpson’s teenage and twentysomething customers aren’t her only admirers. Retailers are singing Simpson’s praises as her brand prepares to launch sportswear in the fall.

The singer-cum-actress-cum-designer with the disarming honesty and ability to laugh at herself is also a shrewd businesswoman. Simpson’s brand generated $750 million in retail sales in 2010 and is poised to break the $1 billion mark in 2012.

With the Camuto Group, which has made Jessica Simpson footwear since 2005, she has inked licensing partnerships for 22 other categories, ranging from jeans, sportswear, fashion accessories, swimwear and dresses to outerwear, watches and fragrance. Department and specialty stores are eager to get their hands on the next piece of the franchise — the sportswear — which is aimed at better junior areas for fall.

At Belk’s, Simpson’s ready-to-wear will be sold in the young contemporary section of better sportswear departments. “The two businesses [denim and rtw] will be housed side-by-side,” said Kathryn Bufano, president and chief merchandising officer. “We see adjacencies with Kenzie Girl and Miss Me denim. Our junior girl is on the young side. Mothers and daughters shop together in many cases. We’ll align with the twentysomething customer. Even though the mom and daughter are shopping in juniors, it’s the postgraduate, early 30-year-old who will buy the sportswear.”

Belk’s has a “gigantic” shoe, handbag and costume jewelry business with Simpson, Bufano said. “We have a very nice dress business in the young contemporary dress area. When dresses and sportswear can catch up to shoes, that will really be something.”

A spokeswoman for Camuto said the company is focused on building in-store shops for Simpson. “We did 600 shops for jeanswear last year,” she said, noting that the shops convey a sense of glamour with chandeliers and sleek white fixtures with chrome accents. “When we launch sportswear in the fall, it will be as an adjacency to the denim shops. We’ll be taking a bigger pad [on the sales floor] and increasing our size.” Shoes, accessories and jewelry are sold in other departments, but the in-store shops have bays devoted to those categories to remind shoppers of the full offering.

Martine Reardon, Macy’s executive vice president of marketing and advertising, said Simpson’s collection appeals to a crossover shopper, from 16 to 40 years old. “To me, it’s more about a mind-set than an age,” she said. “It’s someone who shops missy, but likes to see what’s going on in a more youthful brand. It’s fun, fashionable and trend-right. You’ll see some of the complete looks displayed together. We’re starting to do more of that in all our merchandising. We’re trying to help the customer put it all together.”

Simpson appeals to consumers because she’s not simply the face of the brand, said Reardon.

“Jessica was a singing star and actress,” she said. “She’s proven herself to be a designer who’s extremely involved in the look and feel of her brand. She’s a celebrity and a designer. They can be interchangeable, depending upon their talent. Jessica is not a spokesperson. She is the brand. It’s Jessica’s sensibility.”

“Our customers respond to Jessica Simpson because the line offers fun, stylish shoe wardrobe updates at a great price,” said Kristin Frossmo, Nordstrom national merchandise manager for Brass Plum shoes. “The brand is quick to respond to trends and understands the young, contemporary shopper.”

Lord & Taylor’s Jessica Simpson business has expanded over the past few years across all categories, beginning with shoes, sunglasses and dresses. “Now, it’s on to sportswear,” said Liz Rodbell, executive vice president of merchandising. “We have seen strength with dresses and dress shoes this season and the launch of denim was a success. Our customer has responded to the fit and price-point. The collections are right on trend and have a feminine touch with a strong price-to-value equation that resonates with our customer.”

“When we launched denim, we had a strong direct-mail campaign,” Bufano said. “We do promotional pieces for the shoe business called Footwear Frenzy. We’re very aggressive in terms of going after this label. Shoes have been up by double digits year after year, as have handbags and jewelry. We continue to see that growth trajectory.”

Any marketing or advertising effort by stores is aided by Simpson’s own exposure. When she appears on TV or is mentioned in the tabloids, stores see sales spike. Likewise, when Simpson visits a store, “sales go off the charts,” Reardon said. “The last big thing she did was during the holiday season, when she did a PBS special and launched a CD.”

“Our young contemporary and junior customer is very tuned into media and fashion trends,” said Bufano. “She has very high awareness among our customers. We had a special event last fall in our Southpark flagship [in Charlotte, N.C.] and close to 600 people drove from miles and miles around. She has a huge fan base, but her denim, dresses and shoes speak for themselves. Personalities and stars can only go so far, but her merchandise fits with her brand.”

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