She's topped the charts, conquered motherhood and built an empire of booming businesses. Stylist meets the most successful woman in Hollywood
Words: Lyndsay Gilmour, Photos: Rex Features
On the third floor of London’s Dorchester hotel a whole suite is buzzing with record company execs, film crews and other important looking people with clipboards. Inside, I’m ushered into a quiet lounge, told exactly where to sit and the door is closed. Ten minutes later it’s thrust open again and in strides J-Lo. She offers a firm handshake and staring straight into my eyes says “Jennifer”. It’s a little like I’m here for a business meeting, but then, this is the woman who has created a $250milllion empire, so it’s rather fitting.
Dressed in a demure peach shift, black opaque tights and ankle boots, the conservative but stylish ensemble she’s sporting today is a world away from the provocatively high-cut leotard she’ll wear later that night for Britain’s Got Talent – an outfit choice that chokes the easily offended and leads to Jennifer defending her ‘standard stage clothes’ in a radio interview. Her make-up is done but not overdone (a smoky eye and pared back nudes) and she is relaxed, resting her arm high against the back of the sofa as we talk. For someone who uses her feminine presence so expertly in performance, this is not the case now. She’s more neutral, more commanding than I’d expected. Not in an intimidating way, more in that she is wholly focused on why we are here; the body language and intent of – according to Forbes 2012 – the most powerful and highest earning celebrity in the world.
For Jennifer Lopez is a business and creative force to be reckoned with and there seems to be nothing in which she hasn’t dipped her toe. Although she’d previously starred in a handful of minor movies, in 1999, it was thanks to her debut single If You Had My Love that she became internationally renowned. The single launched a pop career that is still going strong with 70 million records sold. Her most recent number one On The Floor topped the charts in 2011. Making a return to film in 2000, the Latino actress upped her ranking to leading lady status. Starring alongside Vince Vaughn in The Cell and Matthew McConaughey in The Wedding Planner she began starring in a couple of films a year as well as launching the first of 20 fragrances and the first of her fashion lines.
She clearly has a ferocious appetite for working across a number of platforms and while some sidelines haven’t been as commercially successful, Jennifer maintains that it’s not the financial side that drives her. Chewing hard on a piece of gum she says, “Everything I do comes from a creative place”. And I do believe her.
With the birth of her twins Max and Emme, five (to ex-husband Marc Anthony), came a self-imposed hiatus. For nearly two years she all but disappeared and the J-Lo of old stayed away from limelight. Her comeback, in the shape of an American Idol judge, showed her in a new light. Seeing her break down on stage after sending a contestant home proved she was sensitive, caring and above all only human. “I just couldn’t believe I had to deliver this news to this person who had been through a lot,” she later said of the episode, which appeared to bury her former diva tag for good.
While Jennifer is considered and happy to talk at length about any one of her enterprises (she has just launched two new mobile phone companies, the Viva Mobile Horizon and Nouveau Network) she has this interview thing down pat, with a politician-like knack of dodging anything hugely personal or specific. Although in this respect, her Achilles’ heel is her children who haven’t accompanied her on this trip – and she is missing them.
“They’re with my mom,” she smiles, with her whole posture relaxing. “She asked to have them since she knew I was coming away and I was like ‘Waaaaaaaah, no… Ok.’ Then Emme said: ‘Mommy, I know you love us but Grandma wants to see us,’ so I was like, ‘OK’”. Swapping doting grandparent stories (she seems genuinely interested in my life), she lists the things her mother isn’t allowed to do. This includes: “not giving them candy or cutting their hair” and her softer, maternal side reveals itself further when talk shifts to the royal unborn child of William and Kate. She sympathises, “it’s tough when you’re pregnant, but Kate handles it with a lot of grace and integrity and that’s why she is what she is.” While it’s clear Jennifer could talk about her family all day, the career woman in her isn’t one to miss an opportunity and it’s not long before we are back to business once again.
The J-Lo brand is huge, yet you, as a person, are at the heart of it. Is it hard to delegate when it’s so personal?
I see myself as the creative chief officer of my life. Anything I get involved with, whether it’s business, music, movies or producing, it all comes from what’s important to me. That’s what makes a brand that has DNA to it. All great businesses have great partners, great collaborators who really know the businesses you are getting in to. But you have to have chemistry with them.
You’re an entertainer first and foremost, so did you have mentors to help with the business side?
I have a wide variety of tastes of things that I respond to. You learn as you go. People educate you as you go. I don’t take on things I don’t get or understand; when I go into a business meeting about fragrance or clothing, I go prepared knowing what I need to accomplish in the same way as I would going into a meeting with a director about a film.
What are you most proud of?
On the fragrance side… it was the first venture I was involved with that turned into a billion dollar business [She first launched the perfume Glow by J-Lo in 2002]. Even though it didn’t make me a billionaire, I was proud of that. It won lots of awards so it was ground-breaking.
Have you made mistakes?
Yes. They are the most important moments in life because they’re when you wind up learning the most. If you were perfect all the time, that would be kind of boring. With my first clothing line I had certain instincts and I wasn’t as forceful as I should have been. It just didn’t flourish into what I wanted it to be and I walked away from it.
Your career has now spanned over two decades, are your motivations the same as when you started out?
Even though my life has changed and the circumstances of my life have changed, I still feel very motivated by the same things, which is to make great art and great music and to do good movies and to create things from nothing.
How important is critical and commercial success?
When you’ve been in the business as long as I’ve been, you get to the point where you think “OK, I’m here to stay”. As a new artist you always think it could all be over tomorrow. But if you have built a career you get to a point where you think I am going to have some great successes and I am going to have some things that don’t work out but it’s OK. I’ll be alright, no matter what happens. I have my kids, I have my family, I am loved and I have been very successful and I am very fortunate.
What would you tell your 21- year-old self?
[Laughs] I wouldn’t tell her anything! I’d let her figure it out on her own. Learning from your mistakes shapes who you are. With all the ups and downs you become a richer, more soulful human being. You become more compassionate as you grow.
Your production company Nuyorican Productions has just made a new show for America’s ABC network, The Fosters. Why were you compelled to make it?
The Fosters is about a kind of unconventional foster family – two women who are in a relationship, one used to be married and has a son so they raise a son together and then they adopt twins and then they start building this family. It’s very indicative of our times. Family, for me, is about love and we go about making our own families as we go in life. We have our natural born families, but it’s the family you make that raises you and shapes you. Because ‘different’ things can be looked at in a prejudiced sort of way, whether it’s being adopted or being gay, when people watch something it helps them get past their preconceptions and they start looking at people as people – all of us have a worth, a value, a heart and a soul.
Do you feel you have built a new family on top of your blood family?
Definitely – my work family. Outside of my family [Jennifer has two sisters] Benny Medina has been in my life close to 20 years now; he’s my manager and my partner in all my businesses.
Would you say he is the person you trust most in the world?
I don’t have one person who I can trust most in the world. You have different friends for different things and you want to believe that you can trust all of them.
Whether it’s the movie such as Gigli you made with Ben Affleck or your duet with Marc Anthony, do you feel comfortable looking back at collaborations with ex-partners?
[Laughs] No! No, I’m OK with it. They are all different eras in your life and I honestly get a lot of joy from looking back – and a lot of laughter, even when it didn’t work out so great. With distance and time you realise what you learned from it and how absurd certain things were. It was like life and death for me at the time but I look back now and giggle.
Now you’re an established artist rather than a ‘hot new thing’, is it hard to be in that middle ground?
I don’t think about it as much as the people who need to write about or examine it. Right now my focus is working on the album. We take things one step at a time, I don’t think much about the bigger picture that I’m painting.
The music industry used to be criticised for sexism. Do you think this is changing?
I think that’s kind of over. Women have taken over the music industry – when you think of all the female artists who are out. Even going back 20 years, back to Cher, Gloria Estefan and that whole time with Maria Carey and Celine Dion and then the next wave which was me and Britney and Beyoncé to what’s continued to now with Rihanna and Lady Gaga. With all these people there have been a few guys but we have really had it on lock for a little bit.
Are you a feminist?
Feminist?! I don’t even know what that means any more. It feels like such a Sixties word. Isn’t everybody? I don’t know, I am a very girly girl, I have a lot of girly friends and I cherish my time with them. They help me through everything. You think about relationships and people going in and out of your life but the women in your life are always there.
Did taking time out to have a family in such a visible industry make you feel insecure?
I didn’t think about that too much because I had waited so long to have babies and was so happy to be pregnant and to give birth to children that I was really consumed with that for a couple of years. It took a good two years before I really got back on my feet and could concentrate on my career again.
Was pregnancy and your changing body shape a big deal for someone whose brand is based on image?
I had twins so obviously I knew I had a fair road back to [being in] shape so I did a triathlon six months after having the babies. But at the same time, I think women are too hard on themselves about this. It takes time to get back to yourself. I was speaking to someone the other day who has just had a baby and I was saying: you’ve had all these years to yourself and you are only taking one year to give birth to them and then maybe another year to get back to yourself, but it’s OK, let it go. Take the time and lose the weight and allow your skin to get back to normal. Yes you’ll have to work at it, but it’s all OK.
Is your perspective on the world different as a mum?
You have your finger on the pulse, but is it as important? It’s funny, I hate the news, the news is so depressing. When I was younger one of my boyfriends used to call me ‘The Pretty in Pink Girl’ as I kind of like pretty-in-pink movies, I don’t like horror movies, I don’t like scary or dark or thriller ones. I just want to be happy and that’s how I want to believe the world is.
Would you say you’re sheltered?
I know what’s going on because you can’t get away from certain stories but I don’t like to inundate myself with the negativity because it’s too much sometimes. That’s not to say I don’t care about it – I do – I actually think I care too much, which is why it’s hard to take it in all the time.
You were a big hit on American Idol but it was, arguably, a huge gamble. Did this worry you?
Everyone in my life thought it was going to be a huge gamble, I can’t remember one person who said you should do this, but I listened to my gut. I felt like I had something to offer to it, I love music, I love the show and the babies were just two years old and we had just come off tour with their dad so we felt it would be good to be in one place for a time. It felt like it fitted my life at the moment. And it turned out to be this great thing. It couldn’t have turned out any better.
Is there anything you can think of that could improve your life right now?
No, I really don’t think that there is. I’m very blessed.
Creating The J-Lo Empire
She might not care about the rocks that she’s got but we’re fascinated. Here’s a rough guide to how J-Lo’s empire is reportedly making over $52million a year.
Starring in over 25 movies such as Maid In Manhattan, The Wedding Planner and The Back-Up Plan, cumulatively Jennifer’s movies have grossed over $2billion internationally.
Although her previous clothing company, Sweetface stopped trading in 2009, Jennifer teamed up with Tommy Hilfiger to produce a new line for US department store Kohl’s in 2011. The venture was estimated to have generated up to $3billion in sales in its first year.
Having launched 19 fragrances since her first range Glow by J-Lo debuted in 2002, Jennifer is said to have raked in $75million from all sales.
Last month Jennifer launched a chain of mobile phone stores, Viva Movil, aimed at the US Latino community in America.
Despite joining the US talent show American Idol as a judge for a reported $12million, her contract was renewed for $20million when she proved to be a massive hit.
Since 1999, Jennifer’s records sales have amassed 75 million but her 2012 Dance Again world tour, complete with costumes created by Zuhair Murad, is thought to have made $12.7million alone.
The single Live It Up is out now. Jennifer will be performing at Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time Hyde Park on 14 July; bst-hydepark.com