After a decade of covering New York Fashion Week — witnessing everything from Nelly punching someone at Baby Phat to actual penises at a Richie Rich show — we had started to wonder if it could still surprise us. Cut to Wednesday night, at our inaugural event not two hours off our plane from L.A., when we found ourselves waiting to talk to Jessica Simpson in front of a restaurant kitchen while a chef pummeled a planet-size bowl of mashed potatoes.
“I just need to get in there real fast,” we heard Joe Simpson say to the woman guarding the curtain. “I have a gift for Jessica.”
“Not yet,” the PR girl replied.
That Joe couldn’t even get behind the curtain to his offspring tells you what an ordeal it ended up being trying to get a glimpse of Jessica, who on Wednesday night celebrated the 10th anniversary of her billion-dollar clothing and accessories company with a party at Central Park’s Tavern on the Green. (It was also, for a lot of people, the kick-off of New York Fashion Week; with Lauren Conrad’s runway show happening concurrently across town, it was like we’d hijacked a Delorean and taken it back to 2006.) Guests swilled free white wine and ate tiny passed apps under twinkling fairy lights, most of them clad in the requested dress code of black, gold, or white. A band covered “Play That Funky Music” and then rolled right into “Billie Jean,” which prompted Martha Stewart — who swanned in wearing gold strappy shoes and tight white jeans with a matching peasant blouse — to bust out a brief but memorable shimmy before stepping in front of the cameras. We constantly felt about three minutes away from a boozy conga line breaking out behind Press Row, because the entire thing felt ever so much like a wedding. Except without the bride.
“She’s coming, I promise,” vowed a PR girl about an hour and a half into the party, pacing as calmly as she could in front of a row of antsy reporters. It was upward of 85 degrees and very humid, and about twice as many of us as there was space. “She will talk to all of you. It will happen.”
Jessica eventually appeared and the whole area sprang to life: camera flashes exploded, reporters hurriedly groped for their tape recorders, and Jessica’s friends and entourage members and the occasional looky-loo pressed past us toward the red carpet — which was actually an array of small Persian rugs laid end to end in front of a hedge decorated with the singer’s logo lit up in gold. Clad in a low-cut mesh-front jumpsuit, Jessica dove into an on-camera interview while her tall, silver-haired husband Eric Johnson bolted for an off-camera corner to have a cocktail with friends. People shoved back and forth past us, trampling the small pieces of paper laid out with each publication’s name on it, meant to designate where we should stand. It seemed unlikely she would even see us, much less make her way through the camera-phone-wielding throng. “If you don’t calm down, she is going to run away,” one reporter shouted at a couple girls taking selfies.
And then, after 15 minutes, she kind of did.
“Jessica is overheated,” the PR girl told us, apologetically. “She’s going to do the rest of the interviews from the green room.”
But to her credit, Jessica was not lying when she said everyone would get their chance. The line of reporters snaked long and loud through the restaurant, and she could’ve snuck out the back, but she stayed put to talk to every last person — which we know because we were one of the last. After about three hours, we finally made it behind Curtain No. 1 — where the VIPs were partying next to a windowsill stacked high with their dirty plates — to Curtain No. 2, behind which stood our quarry.
In person, Jessica is petite, very tan, and very blonde. She made eye contact the entire time we talked, and she didn’t make us feel rushed even though we knew the clock was ticking. She was also endearingly frank, especially when discussing her decision to make sure her brand ran up into the plus sizes even though that’s a pretty rare choice. “That probably came from me being every size,” she laughed. “I just really understand women and where they go, and the struggle to get back into the perfect pair of jeans or just feel good in a new size, you know?” She shrugged off the notion that it’s uncommon for celebrity lines to be so inclusive. “In most ways I don’t feel like I am a celebrity,” she said. “But you just can’t make people want to look like you. You have to let people look like who they are, and to be able to give that to people is the most gratifying thing. I think it’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned — just to understand who you are as a woman and be able to wear things that make you feel like more than just what your clothes are.”
Then she blew her hair off her face and fanned herself, pulling her jumpsuit away from her skin. “Well, maybe not tonight,” she said. “The most valuable lesson of tonight is not sweating my butt off on the red carpet.”