Porny goes to the gym
This month, Jessica Alba covers Allure and Gwyneth Paltrow is on the cover of Fast Company. The stories revolve around The Honest Co. and Goop – billion-dollar evaluations and contextual commerce and investment (both financial and personal) and of course, the idea of lifestyle, that they are both, in their own ways, experts. Just don’t compare them, because they’ll both call you sexist.
Rounding out the most-cited list of celebrity-slash-entrepreneurs is Blake Lively for Preserve and Reese Witherspoon with Draper James. Sometimes, Kate Hudson’s Fabletics line is included in the mix. (Lainey: I own 3 pieces of Fabletics, and wear them often. My complaint is that they’re always out of sizes.)
You know who rarely gets included in the conversation, despite running a massively successful apparel and branding empire? Jessica Simpson. Her brand was valued at a billion dollars when the others were just starting out. She’s an OG. She’s present but not getting the hot or buzzy press anymore. The last sanctioned covers I could find for Jessica was in 2014; she had PEOPLE in January, Redbook in February in North America.
Now, she’s coming for athleisure. I am floored by how much athleisure-wear there is – is this because everyone actually goes to the gym? Or does everyone just pretend to go to the gym like me? Jessica Simpson is entering a very crowded market – Lululemon, Joe Fresh, Gap, Old Navy, Adidas designer collaborations, Rihanna’s work with Puma, Fabletics, Beyonce’s upcoming line with Topshop, not to mention all of the smaller, cooler lines. There’s a lot of competition to look cute in leggings.
But you know what? I think Jessica can pull it off because, as she’s proven time and again, shoppers love her. She told Forbes in 2014 that she simply knows what women of different ages and sizes and economic backgrounds want. It’s that simple. Usually a celebrity claiming to be in touch with the everywoman/man inspires an eyeroll, but the proof is in the sales. She has, at one time or another, sold jeans, perfume, shoes, hair extensions, bags, and bedding. She’s had hits, and she’s had misses (like her Dessert beauty line, one of her first projects), but even the flops haven’t damaged her brand. And, for someone who has overshared about accidentally getting pregnant, her business acumen remains a bit of an enigma.
She’s managed to survive an economic downturn and the decline of retail, and continues to expand her merchandise despite a low-key web presence. And Jessica hasn’t really had to sacrifice much, considering her biggest claim to show business fame was her reality show. She was always going to sell photos of her kids and wedding, anyway. Going back to Newlyweds, using her personal life to float her professional life is second nature to her.
Jessica Simpson demands nothing of us; we don’t need to buy into her taste level or her parenting style or her ethics. Maybe that’s why she never really looks put out by anything. Because the rest of the celebs in the lifestyle game are trying so hard to seem effortless and accessible but aspirational and, above all, imitable, and a big way they communicate this is through social media. As of writing this, Jessica hasn’t posted on Instagram for two weeks. Gwyneth is the ultimate Insta bragger, and Reese posts (increasingly ugly) Draper James outfits almost daily. Blake goes for funny, and Kate Hudson goes for sick body/giggle boho.
What will also set Jessica apart is the scrutiny on her body, which is different than the type of scrutiny the others face. Gwyneth has an incredible body, and credits it to Tracy Anderson and working out 2 hours a day. Kate Hudson has an incredible body that isn’t aligned with any sort of specific trainer or workout or diet, but has an element of cheeky California girl, someone who spends a lot of time in the water, at yoga and hiking. Beyonce entertains a meal plan and a trainer – of course we don’t know specifics, because it’s Beyonce. But we don’t associate any of these women with weight loss like we can with Jessica Simpson – for Gwyneth, Kate and Beyonce, it’s more abstract. We simply expect them to have great bodies. Jessica is different; she’s had a lucrative Weight Watchers deal and has played off her body image and different sizes. She is the only one I can imagine getting tempted by a donut and wearing a step tracker. What if she positions this as the athleisure line for the people that don’t work out and eat well as a way of life? The ones that struggle with it?
I’m predicting that when the time is right, she’ll work with a couple of magazines and get some pap photos in her products and maybe a few personal appearances, but that’s it. She’s not going to bludgeon us over the head with the story of her sports bra. There will be a quote about her big boobs, probably, but she won’t offer you ahtleisure and the best coconut water smoothie recipe. You don’t have to relate to every aspect of her life to consider a purchase. You can just buy her stuff without having to buy Jessica Simpson. Is low-maintenance branding a thing? If so, she’s nailed it.