Celebrity-designer-mom Jessica Simpson let it all hang out at Tuesday evening’s record-breaking YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund/Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards dinner.
Simpson, who was honored along with Macy’s chief merchandising officer Tim Baxter and Peerless Clothing president Ronny Wurtzburger, appeared in a tight black dress that showed off her curves. After 200 student scholarships were distributed, Simpson received YMA’s “future of fashion” award and seized the moment to suggest her next brand extension beyond the three dozen or so categories she’s already in. “I need lip gloss. That’s my next adventure. Macy’s — will you sell it?”
Simpson bypassed much of the teleprompter script, admitting “I feel awkward talking about myself in the third person. I can’t read all of these things. This is weird.”
The most emotional moment came after Louise Camuto, widow of Vince Camuto, presented her award, and Simpson welled up with tears, remembering her former business partner and mentor from when her collection launched its first category — footwear — in 2005. In April, Sequential Brands Group purchased a majority stake in the Simpson brand. “We miss him dearly,” Simpson said. “Vince really knew how to make a shoe.”
“Really, I don’t feel that fashionable,” Simpson said, getting personal. “Everyone in this room makes me feel accepted.” As far as maintaining her $1 billion power lifestyle brand status, Simpson said, “I try. Maybe I don’t try. I try.” She added that she spends too much to not be successful.
Her advice to the students: “You guys are our future and I can’t tell you how to do it. Just believe you can. Understand yourself through fashion. Own yourself. People like crazy.”
With a trio of fashion stars receiving the YMA awards, the evening drew a record 1,611 guests and generated $4 million to support YMA’s student program, beating the old benchmark of $3.7 million. The program provides scholarships, internships, alumni programming and mentoring opportunities.
“This group of students gives us the opportunity to look at our business through an unfiltered lens,” said Baxter, who got the “retailer of the year” award. “Now that’s more important than ever.” Baxter acknowledged it was a tough year for retailing. “Our industry has always gone through ups and downs. I’d say the time for new ideas and inspirations is now.”
Wurtzburger, who received the “wholesaler of the year” award, advised the students to “give a strong handshake and look people directly in the eye” on job interviews and to bear in mind that “specialization doesn’t work in the fashion field.” In addition to design, they should learn fit, product, cost and other sides of the business. “I have loved this industry for nearly 50 years.” He recalled his early days, including when his father “fired” him for missing a sale after he couldn’t fill a request for a size 44 brown striped suit. “He said, ‘the first lesson in selling is try to sell them something else.’ I’ve been doing that to you [retailers] ever since.”
“This is a big night,” said Karen Murray, president of VF Sportswear Coalition. “We’re celebrating wonderful, legendary leaders but the special part of the evening is what we do for students to facilitate their careers in retail and fashion and just knowing we can make a difference.”
Among the 200 scholarships were the eight Geoffrey Beene winners who took the stage to receive the biggest grants. They were: Aubry Stitt, The University of Arizona; Avani Patel, The University of Texas at Austin; Aya Mechelany, The New School’s Parsons School of Design; Daniela Gallo McCausland, Washington University in St. Louis; Eric Beaudette, Cornell University; Erin Ceconi, Pratt Institute; Jessica Ferreira, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Megan Donovan, University of Wisconsin.