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Picture This: Jessica in the Desert

Jessica Simpson rolled in the Mojave Desert sand in a white cotton shirt and black pencil skirt in the first ad campaign for her clothing line.

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LANCASTER, Calif. — You can take Jessica Simpson out of the country but you can’t take the country out of her.

For the $2 million — and first — ad campaign to promote her namesake contemporary clothing line, the pop star rolled in the sand here on the western edge of the Mojave Desert in a white cotton wraparound shirt and black pencil skirt. She raised her right knee, pointed her left foot clad in a black stiletto pump and tossed back her head so that her platinum locks skimmed the baked earth.

Against a background of amorphous hills, Simpson steeped herself in fantasy during the daylong shoot last Saturday. She was a sexy secretary rolling in the sand or applying lipstick at the wheel of an azure 1965 Ford Mustang convertible. Then she was a farm girl in a white eyelet dress and brown cowboy boots.

“The ad campaign definitely represents my roots and how I was raised a little bit of a country girl,” the Texas-born Simpson said later in an interview. “I grew up with my feet in the dirt and on tire swings and old cars, and I just like the rawness of that.”

As two personal assistants shook their booties to hip-hop blaring from the stereo of a chauffeured black Chevy Suburban, Simpson tried to stay still in front of the camera. She pleaded for someone to change the radio station. The right mood was struck with some Twenties-era jazz and big band tunes.

Simpson modeled six outfits for the campaign that is set to break in March. Vince Camuto, who paid $15 million in August to control the master license for the Jessica Simpson fashion brand, estimated the cost at $2 million. The campaign was snapped by Wayne Maser, who had photographed marketing blitzes for fashion labels such as Celine, DKNY and Versace.

“She works hard to make good pictures,” said Maser, whose all-black outfit was covered in dust after he demonstrated on the ground the poses that he wanted Simpson to imitate.

Tina Simpson, the star’s mother who helps run the clothing business and is protective of her first-born’s image, accompanied her to the shoot. But Jessica Simpson has surrounded herself with a team of industry experts led by Camuto. “It is my name out there and it’s very important to have that respect in the fashion industry,” Simpson said.

This story first appeared in the November 9, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Her attempt to conquer fashion already faces glitches. Tarrant Apparel Group, which manufactures the junior label Princy by Jessica Simpson under a sublicense, last week slashed its full-year forecast for revenue and net profit because of pressure from retail consolidation, quota safeguard measures and a denim glut.

Los Angeles-based Tarrant said denim makes up 20 to 25 percent of Princy. Camuto said the contemporary line won’t have that much denim because he doesn’t want to cannibalize sales from Princy. Launched this fall, Princy retails from $50 to $125 and is sold in department stores such as Nordstrom, Macy’s and Dillard’s. A manufacturer hasn’t been selected yet for Simpson’s contemporary line.

It’s important for Simpson to aggressively get behind her contemporary label, which will introduce footwear next spring and roll out sportswear, accessories, outerwear, jewelry and lingerie in fall 2006. Having sold more than six million albums by Nielsen SoundScan’s estimates, Simpson branched out of music into movies last summer with her debut in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which followed her MTV reality series “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica” co-starring her husband, Nick Lachey.

Simpson’s challenge is to stand out from the growing circle of celebrities — Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Hilary Duff, among others — who also strive to extend their brands into the fashion industry.

Still, Camuto said he projects wholesale volume for the contemporary label to reach $100 million in the first year after the sportswear launch in late 2006.

Camuto is the chief executive officer of Greenwich, Conn.-based Camuto Group, which designs and manufactures Simpson’s footwear and handbags and sublicenses the other products. Swimwear and optical frames and sunglasses will bow in 2007, he said. Expansion into overseas markets such as mainland China and Hong Kong could be in fall 2007 or spring 2008.

“We look at [Simpson] as more of a style icon, one that appeals to a lot of different people,” Camuto said during a lunch break in the photo shoot. The contemporary line will retail from $50 to $400 and target better retailers.

Simpson, 25, is a celebrity of the moment. A prize for the paparazzi, she seems ubiquitous on the red carpet in gowns by Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta and Narciso Rodriguez. She is also fodder for TV, print and Internet gossip that speculates on the state of her marriage to Lachey, 32, a singer and aspiring actor. Camuto said he is unconcerned that rumors about the shaky state of Simpson’s marriage will hurt her fashion brand. “People talk about everybody,” he said.

Nonetheless, Simpson has detractors in fashion circles.

Barbara Kramer, co-founder of Designers & Agents, the directional trade show that runs in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, said Simpson has no style. “Maybe a mall shopper, they look at [Simpson] and think she’s so hot. I look at her and think she’s so not,” Kramer said.

But Simpson understands the power of celebrity. “Everybody has different kinds of fans that are different buyers,” she said. “I think it is amazing that people have responded so well to celebrities. In a lot of ways, it puts you in a great place as a role model.”

The ads for the Jessica Simpson contemporary label will break in Elle, In Style and other women’s magazines and also will be splashed on outdoor billboards. At the same time next year, ads promoting Princy will run in teen magazines including Cosmogirl, Teen Vogue and Elle Girl.

The ad campaign for Princy, budgeted at $1.5 million and photographed by Darren Feist, was done three days before the Mojave Desert shoot, but it did not feature Simpson. Instead, a blonde model sporting the young, edgy clothes jumped around in a brightly lit New York studio that featured gold and orange tones and a “glamazon” theme.

Simpson said she wanted to hire a model for the Princy campaign to convey that every kind of girl can wear the clothing. “I also don’t want it to be too overbearing where people get too much Jessica,” Simpson said.

Gale Group, an advertising agency with offices in New York and Beverly Hills, spearheaded the branding strategies. “We don’t want to make [Simpson] not accessible,” said Mindy Gale, creative director of Gale Group. While there may be TV commercials in the future, Gale said she plans to hold in-store events where Simpson can perform.

Simpson said her all-time favorite marketing campaigns were the Guess ads photographed on a farm with bombshell models. “The image I want to portray is natural beauty,” Simpson said.

She is taking time off from music and acting to focus on her fashion business, which promises comfort for every shape and size. As for the creative process, Simpson said she goes through her closet, takes pictures of her favorite items and sends ideas for fabrics and colors to her showroom in New York.

The entertainer was in Manhattan on Tuesday to accept the Fashion Icon Award from the Accessories Council and hold meetings for her jewelry and handbag lines. She said she picked an Oscar de la Renta dress for the Accessories Council gala because she hasn’t created “the fancy-fancy stuff” for her line yet. “I can’t yet let go of my Oscar de la Renta,” Simpson confessed.

Tina Simpson, 47, said her job is to make sure her daughter sees all the clothing samples and shoes for final approval. The two also try to come up with designs together.

Although Simpson was born in Abilene, Tex., and lived in Dallas until moving to California with her family in 1998, her clothing doesn’t evoke Western wear. However, in a nod to her roots and capitalizing on the craze for Americana, Simpson will offer cowboy boots and clunky wooden sandals in her footwear line. The boots are already available in Nordstrom, Camuto said.

“Even if you are not a fan of me, I hope you are a fan of my clothes, my shoes, my jewelry,” Simpson said.

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