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How Jessica Simpson Brought in a Billion Dollar Fashion Bonanza

Have you seen enough of Jessica Simpson yet? You're about to see a whole lot more. The girl who rose to stardom on the crest of a quasi-successful country music career, a flash-in-the-pan film (Dukes of Hazzard), and frequent appearances in tabloids is extending her existing fashion empire (think shoes, sunglasses, swimwear and scent) to include sportswear. The move is estimated to ring in a cool billion at retail in the next year.

Let that sink in for a minute. The preacher's daughter who's got no more to recommend her as a fashion industry heavyweight than any other celebrity brought in $750 million this year in retail sales across all of her 22 lines.

But let's get one thing straight: Simpson's not grabbing all the cash for herself. In fact, Forbes points out that her earnings last year topped out around $20 million. Nothing to sneeze at but it seems that Simpson -- like so many accidental-entrepreneurs -- made a critical choice that decided her fortunes right at the beginning of her foray into fashion.

Hot on the heels of her reality show with then-husband Nick Lachey and sporting a tight bod in even tighter "Daisy Duke" cut-offs, Simpson inked a deal with the Camuto Group estimated at $15 million in 2005. In it, Simpson sold the master license to her apparel and accessories brand to Vince Camuto, co-founder of Nine West who was busy growing a portfolio of brands such as Tory Burch and Nicole Miller. The terms gave Camuto the right to market Simpson's name and brand worldwide in exchange for royalties.

Though the 30-year old Simpson's been the target of plenty of snark and vitriol (think John Mayer's famous pronouncement to Playboy that his ex-girlfriend was "sexual napalm") she was smart enough to rise above the chatter and hook up with Icon Licensing Group LLC, which brokered the deal with Camuto.

$15 million must have seemed like a lot to the then-25-year old Simpson who started by stamping her signature on a shoe collection. But thanks to the design direction and manufacturing muscle of Camuto, Simpson's shoes were of solid construction and embellished with on-trend details. Selling at near $100 retail in department stores such as Belk and Macy's (M), the collection caught on quickly with customers.

Baubles, handbags, and sunnies followed in short order. Just three years later, Simpson's goods brought in about $300 million at wholesale. Forbes notes that would have made back the $15 million advance and allowed Simpson to start collecting royalties.

Now it seems, the hits just keep coming. Love or hate the face of the brand, the powerhouse behind it is The Jones Group Inc., which has been licensed by Camuto to design, develop, produce and distribute Jessica Simpson Sportswear beginning in 2011. Jones is already licensing Simpson jeans which is sold in 650 department stores including Macy's, Dillard's, Belk, and Bon-Ton.

Camuto and Jack Gross from the Jones Group defer the success to the broad appeal of Simpson's celebrity. An appearance at Belk once drew six hundred eager to glimpse the gal who considers herself an everywoman beset with figure flaws. Gross notes her fans bridge generations, attracting 15- as well as 40-year olds.

And while she's the figurehead atop the design and manufacturing pyramid, Simpson isn't shrinking from the fashion spotlight. She's made appearances for everything from Proactive to Project Runway and graced the cover of Lucky Magazine as well as Marie Claire. The latter, a bold- (and bare-) faced attempt to denounce detractors who've criticized her weight and complexion.

Now Jessica Simpson's set to have the last laugh, all the way to the bank.

Image via PicasaWeb user S. CC 2.0

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