On The Plus Side

Pint-size Jessica Simpson's has a new line of jeans out -- in sizes on the other end of the scale that she barely tips.

August 24, 2005|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The nerve of that Jessica Simpson.

The pop starlet who recently said she doesn't know whether "iconish" is a word seems to think she does know a thing or two about fashion for plus-size women.

Yes, that's right. Plus-size women. And yes, that Jessica Simpson.

The same singer/reality star/actress whose disappearing frame has prompted several celebrity magazines to ask, "Too thin?" The blond bombshell who dieted and exercised her body fat away to nothing to don teeny tiny Daisy Dukes for her starring role in the movie The Dukes of Hazzard. And the one now accused of padding those shorts to overcome a too-flat tush.

In a new business venture, Simpson has designed a line of $59 denim jeans in sizes 12 to 24 for much curvier women who want to be just like her.

"It's ridiculous," says Sharnell Carter, a 34-year-old gospel singer from Baltimore who was shopping yesterday at the Avenue store in Mondawmin Mall where Jessica Simpson jeans are sold. "She's really thin. Isn't she kind of risque with her clothes? She has to understand what it's like being big. We have different needs. She has no idea.

"Jessica Simpson jeans? Nooo, thank you."

But Simpson, who has built a mega-career out of being a celebrity ditz, wants to be taken seriously in her quest to woo plus-size women. It's not enough that she's cornered the market on female tweens, young girls who haven't yet turned teenagers. Or that her new role as Daisy Duke has won her legions of male fans.

"She has a huge fan base," says Erika McGlone, a spokeswoman for the Avenue. "She recognizes that not all of these fans are a size 2. Over 65 percent of U.S. women are plus-size so she recognizes that a lot of her fans are plus-size." (While many in the plus-size industry use such figures, other estimates say larger sizes make up from 20 percent to 50 percent of the apparel market. But all agree it's one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry.)

McGlone won't disclose any sales figures, but says the jeans are "flying off the shelves. It's a gold mine that's doing very well."

Zaftig types looking to emulate the pop diva can choose from a variety of styles at Avenue or Fashion Bug stores -- they come with a yellow rose on the pocket, boot-cut, cowboy-style, beaded and embroidered.

But do remember to buy a size larger than you normally wear, the Avenue.com Web site recommends, because Simpson's jeans are designed for a tighter fit.

"I know a lot of women probably think she done lost her mind," says Kendra Bell, a 20-year-old Baltimore shopper who considers herself a fan. "But she gets a quality point for trying. I might buy them if they're cute and they fit."

At $59 a pop, they're quite affordable compared to some designer jeans, which can cost hundreds of dollars a pair. But will they hug pear-shaped figures and apple-shaped back ends? It's the fit that will decide it in the end.

"They look quite small," says Peggy Lutz with a sigh as she checked the jeans out online. Lutz is a California designer who has spent the past 16 years creating upscale fashions for plus-size women. "Big women can look terrific, but not squeezed into something that's not really designed to fit them. Regular clothes made bigger just doesn't cut it. The bigger a woman gets, the more distinct her body becomes."

"Jessica Simpson has a right to exploit her fame in any way she sees fit," Lutz says. "On the one hand, you have to give her credit for recognizing that there are women of all sizes out there. On the other hand, she's promulgating an illusion."

What illusion is that?

The same illusion that other celebrities sell with their product lines: Wear our clothes, live our life. Be like us.

Does that mean if you put on a pair of Sean John chocolate wool corduroy trousers, you can host the MTV Video Music Awards like Diddy, aka Puff Daddy?

Or if you sport J.Lo velour pants, you can date actor Ben Affleck and then marry Latin crooner Marc Anthony?

Spritz on some Curious, a perfume by Britney Spears, and you, too, can tongue wrestle with Madonna on live TV?

Perhaps wearing Simpson's jeans will make you lose IQ points?

"That's just a hard concept to get," says Kerri Smith, a Phoenix, Ariz., writer and author who is also a plus-size woman. "Nobody is going to look like Jessica in those jeans. Nobody. I don't care what size you are."

Still, she and other plus-size women say Simpson should be praised for recognizing that all bodies are not created equal.

"It doesn't offend me at all that this glamorous, thin woman is marketing to us," Smith says. "As a woman who is extra large, I really appreciate looking nice. And there's no reason why you can't look nice in a larger size.

"What's more offensive to me is that she's portrayed as so dumb."

Dumb, perhaps, for show, but not in business. Maybe Simpson is far smarter than we all think.

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