Skip to main content

Getting to the Heart of J.Lo

Jennifer Lopez talks about everything from her irritation with the prying press to her children on the eve of launching her 18th fragrance, Glowing.

There’s this thing called love — and it’s a common thread Jennifer Lopez says unifies everything she does, from her music and her family to her business endeavors.

“My heart is what guides my whole life, and attracts me to every project that I do,” said Lopez, speaking exclusively with WWD in a lush suite at Manhattan’s Lowell Hotel. Clad in a turquoise sleeveless dress and gold jewelry, both from her Kohl’s lines, Lopez illustrated her point by mentioning her upcoming album; her gig as a judge on “American Idol”; her decade-long fragrance brand with Coty, among the biggest celebrity labels in history; “¡Q’Viva!: The Chosen,” the new Univision reality TV show she’s producing with her former husband, Marc Anthony, and Simon Fuller; her apparel and accessories lines at Kohl’s Corp. — and the two most important loves of her life, twins Emme and Max, who will turn four on Feb. 22.

Related Galleries

Mentioning “¡Q’Viva!: The Chosen,” which premiered Saturday, she explained that the reality series involves traveling to 21 countries, including the U.S., and countries in Latin America, looking for the best Latin entertainers. “‘¡Q’Viva!’ is something that is a passion project, the same way Glow [her first fragrance] and Glowing [her latest scent, due at the beginning of May] are passion projects,” she said.

You May Also Like

The L word is also her chief inspiration for her upcoming album, her eighth. “It’s still about love,” said Lopez, deftly avoiding the subject of her reported new boyfriend, 24-year-old dancer Casper Smart. “Maybe I’ll call it Love, exclamation point, this time.”

Speaking (or not) of Smart, Lopez is quick to acknowledge that the media’s constant interruption of and speculation about her personal life can get exhausting. “It’s hard sometimes, I’m not going to lie,” she said, likening it to living in a fishbowl. “I try to stay away from the media as much as I can,” she said with a hearty laugh. When asked if she felt the media picks on her — as with the flack she got in the fall for her Fiat commercial, which was set in the Bronx but shot on a Los Angeles back lot — Lopez turned serious.

“Sometimes. I try not to take it too personally, because I don’t think they do it just to me. But as a human being it feels like that. You feel like you’re the only one being picked on. But the truth is, they pick on everybody. They really don’t discriminate. I try to concentrate on all the great things I have going on in my life.”

She does seem amused by the Fiat flack, depicting the Bronx neighborhood Castle Hill, where she grew up. “I hate to break it to you guys, but every movie that you see that’s shot in Europe? It’s not shot in Europe, it’s a back lot in Los Angeles. I’ve been to my neighborhood a lot. My grandmother only died two years ago, so I was there for holidays. My mom worked there until a year and a half ago. It’s ridiculous. People love to talk.”

Does she think the media should back off? “Yes, but I’m not going to change that,” she said, laughing. “I’d love to think I could change it, with all the love and goodness in my heart, and say, ‘Hey, when people are going through this [referring to her split with Anthony], back off.’ I think of myself as powerful, but not that powerful. But I’m blessed. That I know. It’s been a difficult moment as far as a transition out of a seven-year marriage into not having that anymore, and that’s not easy for me. I have my moments, I’m human. But I just get through it like any other person.”

What would she do if one of her kids wanted to go into the entertainment field? “Here’s what I know about doing what I do — and obviously their dad is the same way. If they’re going to do it, there’s nothing I can do to stop them — and I’ll support them. But just like my mom, I’m going to make them go to school” — Lopez graduated from Preston High School, an all-girls Catholic high school in the Bronx, in 1987, going on to briefly attend Baruch College — “and I’m going to let them make that decision when they’re old enough to make that decision. I don’t want them to be in the business at a young age. I just don’t think they need that burden, that pressure. They should have a normal life — go to school, play, grow up. They should have a family life, as solid a foundation as I can give them. If they want to go off and be artists or singers or dancers or pilots or architects or anything — then they have my full support. My mom couldn’t stop me from [getting into this industry], I won’t be able to stop them from doing it.”

Still, both kids are showing early creative talent. “They are both artistic children, but you never know what avenue that’s going to take,” said Lopez. “I can hear that Emme can sing. She loves to dance and will sit there for hours watching dance, but you never know what path that’s going to take. She could be a choreographer. And I can see that Max is very comfortable in front of a camera.”

Lopez has never been particularly afraid to kick open new doors, including the one that she definitively broke in 10 years ago: the celebrity fragrance genre, a category that had largely died in the late Eighties after entries from stars ranging from Cher to Joan Collins failed, leaving Elizabeth Taylor as the only star left standing. When Lopez decided she wanted to do a signature scent, the market was lukewarm on the idea of anyone — even someone with Lopez’s star power — doing a celebrity fragrance. Macy’s Inc. took the juice and put it on a modest display.

Quickly, the market learned it had a hot seller on its hands, one that rapidly expanded to 2,000 department and specialty stores and made the top five in nearly all of them. Glow racked up first-year retail sales of more than $100 million globally. These days, Lopez’s fragrance empire — of which Glowing is the 18th — is a nearly $2 billion retail beauty brand on a cumulative basis.

“You don’t think about things like that — when you’re creating, you’re just in the moment,” said Lopez of the longevity of her fragrance brand. “You’re doing it right then for right then. You always hope that things have a lasting impression and you go into it with those types of big thoughts — ‘Oh, this could be like Coco Mademoiselle or Chanel No.5!’ You aim for that, but you don’t really think of it when you’re in the moment.”

Glowing, she said, is “a step beyond Glow.”

“Glowing is such a clean fragrance,” said Lopez. “That’s what I’ve always been about. I like soapy, clean smells. This is a very woodsy scent. So it’s not exactly what I created 10 years ago — it’s the evolution of that. At the essence, it’s still natural, earthy, clean and real, but a little different side of that. It’s the woodsy side of it, which I think is kind of New York-y, darker and sexier.” Glowing is a floral woody amber concocted by Lopez with Givaudan’s Calice Becker and Caroline Sabas. It has top notes of bergamot, mandarin and cypress; a heart of orange flower, muguet de bois and cassia flower, and a drydown of sandalwood, amber sultan, vanilla, vetiver, patchouli and cashmere musk. Eaux de parfum in three sizes — 1 oz. for $39, 1.7 oz. for $49 and 2.5 oz. for $65 — will be sold. The 1.7-oz and 2.5-oz. sizes light up for 15 seconds when the atomizer is pressed, “in homage to Glow,” explained Lopez. The juice has a faint lavender tint, “because there’s a tiny hint of violet in it,” she added. A 6.7-oz. body lotion, $27.50, will also be offered.

“After 10 years, we had to break all the boundaries,” said Catherine Walsh, senior vice president of American fragrances for Coty Prestige, a division of Coty Inc. She was referring to the light-up bottle, hence the name.

“We’re in the history making business, baby!” an ebullient Lopez put in, spritzing herself. “I drove them a little bit crazy with this one. I always feel pressure to create a great fragrance — I always want it to be so special, this one especially because of Glow. We want it to be great, and I think it is.”

Bernd Beetz, chief executive officer of Coty, was an architect of the brand. “I just started at Coty and I was looking for a new success model for fragrance,” said Beetz, speaking of the celebrity fragrance genre as a whole. “It struck me that there was a void that we could fill. I was sure it was a defining moment for the organization. I think it was a defining moment for the whole industry.”

In fact, Beetz credits the successful Lopez project for laying the groundwork for the company’s other celebrity brands, which include Halle Berry and Beyoncé, and the upcoming Lady Gaga and Madonna fragrances. While some have been sounding a death knell for the celebrity category over the past few years, Beetz remains adamant that it is a sustainable business model. “We’re going to prove it again with Madonna. We’re going to prove it again with Lady Gaga. Fragrance is a defining tool to create the image for an artist or a celebrity. It is not an afterthought. It is a central part of building a brand. And if you build it one way it’s going to extend in other areas.”

He also insists that it’s critical to keep a finger on the pulse of celebrity, music, art and fashion trends at all times. “You need to stay close to them, because some are not going to last. I’m convinced that Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyoncé and Halle Berry [fragrances] are going to have a 10-year anniversary. The others are not going to make that, frankly.”

The same is true of designer fragrances, he opines. “Look at how much gets launched and how much ends up sticking.”

He looks chiefly for edge and commitment from those he signs. “They make it the central part of their activity. This is a piece of art, the way artists express themselves. If I don’t sense this type of commitment, I won’t sign.”

And he put his money where his heart was with Lopez. “I did bet a lot. I was prepared to bet the farm. I think I did,” he said with a laugh. “And it paid off big time. It’s collaboration. We had the collaboration and understanding that Jennifer would make us part of the development and evolution of her as a person, her life. That’s what the consumer is trying to get.” He also believes, in principle, that the franchise could go on forever. “Look at how many eye shadows we have,” he said.

In the U.S., Glowing is a Kohl’s exclusive from its May launch; it will begin overseas distribution in a to-be-determined number of doors in July.

Advertising, shot by Sølve Sundsbø with creative direction by Olivier Van Doorne, will break in May fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines. The visual depicts a glistening, come-hither Lopez. Neither Lopez nor the Coty executives discussed figures, but industry sources estimate that Glowing could hit a target of $25 million, 60 percent of the total in the U.S., at retail after a year on counter, driven by a $15 million advertising and promotional war chest.

While Lopez has been an undeniable hit with her fragrances, her fashion lines have done less well in the past, as she shuttered the Sweetface brand before linking with Kohl’s. Does Lopez find designing fashion more challenging than scents? “Fashion and fragrance, they go hand in hand because they have to do with style,” said Lopez. “They have to do with an expression of yourself. To me, they fit together very well. Is one tougher than the other? No, with each it’s just as difficult to come up with something great, something that represents who I am, my brand — but could be any woman. For me, that’s always the challenge — to make it me, but make it everyone else, too.”

She noted that she’s shaping up to have a busy year. “I’m working on a tour, trying to get that done. There’s a couple of movies that I’m looking at, to see if they come together this year — a film, you never know. I’m ready to sink my teeth into something juicy as far as film goes. There’s a lot of music coming up. I’ve been recording for the last couple of months, and I’m working with RedOne again. I used to do a lot of collaborations, but I haven’t in a long time. [Lately] I’ve been approached to do more collaborations. I love working with other artists.”

Lopez acts, sings, produces, designs — is there any uncharted territory left? She notes that longtime friend and business associate Benny Medina is suggesting directing. “He’s always said that he thinks that the biggest thing I’m going to do is be a director,” she said. “But I’m like, you know what? I just can’t take another job right now. Many years in the future, maybe.”

And she’ll continue producing with her Nuyorican Productions. Projects have included the reality TV show “South Beach Tow” and “Bordertown.” Of the name, she says: “Well, when you’re from New York and you’re Puerto Rican, you always hear this term ‘nuyorican.’ And when I went out to L.A., I felt very alone, in a sense — I was away from the Bronx, and New York, and there’s no Puerto Ricans out there hardly, just a lot of Mexicans. I had never even had Mexican food until I went out there — that’s how isolated everything is. You don’t realize that until you start traveling with your job. When you grow up in the Bronx in that one little section — that’s why my first album was ‘On the 6’ [referring to the subway line] and my production company is Nuyorican. It’s all like, you trying to hold on to who you are when you start traveling this big world and seeing all that’s out there. But when I went out there, I just felt like, again, attach yourself to who you are and your roots.”