By  on August 16, 2005

NEW YORK — Jessica Simpson's fashion status just made her $15 million richer.

Vince Camuto believes in Simpson as a fashion icon — and put his money where his mouth is by putting up that amount to purchase the Jessica Simpson fashion brand.

In a deal brokered by the Icon Group, Camuto, president and chief executive officer of Camuto Group, bought the master license for the brand from Andrew Kirpalani, chairman of JS Brand Management, based here. Larry Zarsky, co-president of Icon Group, said he believes this is the largest, up-front celebrity fashion licensing deal in history.

"I don't want the Jessica Simpson brand to be anything I wouldn't wear," said Simpson, via telephone, during a quick break from a fitness video shoot where she said she's spent the whole day — on a treadmill.

"Vince is the mastermind behind this," Simpson said. "He's very creative. I have a vision for what I want done. I don't want my name on something that isn't right."

And Camuto has big plans. "We really think there is an opportunity to make this the hottest brand out there. If this is not a $1 billion or $2 billion brand, I'll be shocked," he said in the BCBG Max Azria footwear showroom here. Camuto was the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Nine West Group Inc., which he grew into a $2 billion conglomerate before selling it to Jones Apparel Group Inc. in 1999. Currently, his licenses for BCBG Max Azria and BCBGirls are among the leading footwear brands in the marketplace.

The way Camuto sees it, he can't go wrong with Simpson. "I think Jessica really is America's sweetheart and I think her fans will grow with her," he said, adding unobjectively, "I don't think customers have an attachment to the ready-to-wear firms that are currently in existence."

Camuto said he expects the company likely will hit $100 million in wholesale volume in its first year, though he noted that it will "take time for us to pull it all together." He's expecting the wholesale volume for footwear alone to reach between $40 million and $50 million in its first year.

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