How Jessica Simpson Got the Ultimate Revenge: From Reality TV Ditz to Role Model

From a pack of late-90s pop stars sprang one of the most successful celebrity brands

By Natalie Finn May 31, 2017 12:00 PMTags

In 2003, as she puzzled over her bowl of tuna fish, things weren't looking good for Jessica Simpson's intellect.

Simpson was a platinum-selling pop star, yes, but as Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica played up the singer's lovable ditziness, Nick Lachey's wife seemed to be getting the raw end of the editing deal. 

She donned a corset and held a cupcake to peddle her edible Jessica Simpson Dessert Beauty products. At the peak of her scripted success, it was Simpson's legs that did all the talking in 2005's Dukes of Hazzard. And then, when Newlyweds ended and Simpson and Lachey subsequently split up in 2006, they pretty much became the poster exes for the doomed couples that would also go their separate ways after signing up for reality shows. 

She may have rocked John Mayer's world, but a switch to a more countrified sound didn't sell any albums, and as she headed into a relationship with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and was subsequently blamed for a decline in his play (her second curse in two years), it was getting increasingly difficult to remember why we cared about Simpson so much in the first place.

We had wanted to love her forever...

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But what a difference a decade makes.

By Nov. 28, 2016, "Chicken of the Sea" may still have been memorable, but "Jessica Simpson" was the celebrity brand that had blown so many others out of the water.


A post shared by Jessica Simpson (@jessicasimpson) on

The news may not have made as many headlines as her Daisy Dukes at the time, but in 2005 Simpson also launched the Jessica Simpson Collection.

Initially a shoe collaboration with Nine West founder Vince Camuto, the brand now has almost two dozen licensees and has expanded to include clothing, handbags, perfume, jewelry, luggage, sunglasses, towels, rugs, bedding...the list goes on.

"I feel like I'm a relatable person," Simpson explained to in 2015, reflecting on 10 years in the business. "I'm completely open and honest with everyone. Whether that's too much openness or honesty, it makes me nonjudgmental. I'm one of those girls you would hopefully want to hang out with. When you have a lot of judgment in the world of design, it keeps you from being as creative as you can be….I'm a risk-taker."

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Jessica Simpson Collection

Having met her share of judgment outside the world of design as well, Simpson wasn't fazed by the fashion and retail world's ever-present critics.

"I have been every size on the planet and I understand women," she said at the Forbes Power Women summit in 2014. "And I just know how to dress them. I know there's all different kinds. There's life in the whole world beyond L.A. and New York. I understand Middle America and their mindset."

Damn straight. The Texas native who just needed a minute with her tuna bowl was actually busy concentrating on building what would become in five short years a billion-dollar business.

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Take that...everybody.

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But despite having clothes stamped with her name flying off the racks, there was a time when Simpson couldn't get dressed without someone making a comment. (Not that that has changed, but she's far from alone.) She had her experience with body shamers when the online bullying that's so sickeningly prevalent today was just finding its legs. Photos of her performing in high-waist jeans in 2009 prompted countless critics to chime in on her weight, enough so that the In This Skin artist would allude to the "controversy" (for lack of a better word) during her next show.

"Please remember, no matter what you go through in life, somebody else might have it harder," she told an audience at the University of Virginia. "So just appreciate...I feel like in our world today we focus on so many things that are completely pointless."

Jessica Simpson's Street Style

The scrutiny of her curves would continue right up through her first pregnancy.

But not only did she ignore the haters, she ended up making a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Weight Watchers at the end of 2011 after having daughter Maxwell.

"I'd been scrutinized about my weight before I got pregnant, so I refused to let anyone steal the joy of my babies," Simpson recalled to InStyle in 2015. "My husband and I were looking at old pictures recently, and I asked him, 'Babe, why didn't you tell me to put the brownie down?' He said, 'You looked great.' He's always loved every curve on my body. And we've always had a healthy sex life."

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Jessica Simpson Collection

Side note: A few eyes rolled ("sigh, another football player") when Simpson started dating Eric Johnson, who was retired from the NFL by the time he and Simpson got together. But seven years later, the parents of two are still laughing all the way to... whichever delightful location it is they're headed to at any given time. In 2011 Simpson told New York Magazine that Johnson had turned her onto journaling in the morning, a great way to purge negativity before it got in the way of the day's business.

"It doesn't even have to be in sentence form; he just gets everything out, and that way he can function without getting in the way of himself, without being aggressive or judgmental," Simpson explained. "We do that together. Sometimes he takes that hour just reading, we'll get out of bed and just read aloud to each other. He has so many books. Like, just books and books and books and books."

As for those infamous jeans, Simpson recalled the hubbub they caused with disbelief.

"What's so unbelievable is that I was probably at least 15 pounds smaller than I am right now," she marveled to Redbook in 2014. "What's more unbelievable is that the press could create something like that out of a pair of jeans…what woman wants to be brought down for wearing a pair of jeans?"

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The answer is: no woman.

And because Simpson knows from experience that it's impossible to please everyone, she put her heart and soul into pleasing herself—and in turn had the perspective necessary to put herself in other women's shoes (and in turn get them into her shoes).

"My business is the heart of who I am," she said at the Forbes summit. "I want to make every woman feel confident in what they're wearing. I do feel like we're very fashion-forward, but we also listen to the consumer."

A few billion dollars in sales later, Simpson's M.O. hasn't changed. Moreover, while of course she's assembled a savvy team, she's burnished her own business reputation by being involved in the day-to-day decision-making and product approval process, in addition to starring in her own ad campaigns.

"It's very important for me to let every woman feel included. Like, every person needs to feel included. If I make a shirt, I'm going to make sure every size is available," she said on CBS Sunday Morning earlier this month. "Because I have been every size, trust me."

And still to this day, almost 12 years since she first put her name on a shoe collection, "People are shocked that they like my brand. Maybe 'cause it's not that expensive? Or maybe because I was a cheesy pop star back in the day. I have no idea."

Whatever the reason, she's still proving her critics wrong at every turn.