The child of a superstar who made her entertainment debut on a reality show, Nicole Richie has nonetheless established herself as a bona fide fashion force with her line House of Harlow 1960. Kavita Daswani meets the designer.
Even though she is 35, Nicole Richie still inadvertently makes her superstar father shed tears of pride each time they see one another. “I tell him, ‘Dad, let’s take it down a notch.’ But he’s very proud.”
Lionel Richie has every reason to feel pride. His daughter was once on a reality show, which made her instantly famous, and as a result of that she could have gone down any number of roads, including some predictably dark ones. She spent four years on The Simple Life with Paris Hilton, which took the girls out of their cosseted Beverly Hills lives and put them into rural towns. It was one of the first in the reality-show genre, and the concept ignited.
Richie has since gone on to build a thriving and highly respected jewellery and fashion brand, House of Harlow 1960. She and her husband, musician Joel Madden, who is also a coach on The Voice in Australia, have two children. She has a close relationship with her extended family, which includes Cameron Diaz, who married Joel Madden’s brother, Benji. And next year, she will be seen on a new Tina Fey-helmed TV comedy, Great News. A fashion trailblazer herself – she is largely considered one of the entertainment industry’s best- dressed women – she’s designed pieces that have been worn by other bold-faced names like Kim Kardashian, Jessica Alba and Taylor Swift. She says now that what started as a hobby, hand-making jewellery for her mother’s friends, became a brand not because she sat down and plotted it, but because she just loved what she was doing. What took off as a small collection of jewellery then morphed into a full ready-to-wear and accessories offering that focuses on on-trend pieces at an accessible price point. Richie recently entered into an exclusive collaboration with Revolve, a Los Angeles-based fashion e-tailer, offering a curated selection of about 40 pieces a month for them.
WHERE DID YOUR LOVE OF FASHION COME FROM?
By the time I was four or five, I was sitting in my mom’s dressing room, watching her get her hair and make-up done and going everywhere with my dad; the Grammys, the American Music Awards, every event known to man. I’d sit around and watch her and try on all her clothes. She had a huge walk-in closet. Alaïa and Chanel were her favourites.
YOU ACTUALLY STARTED DESIGNING VERY YOUNG?
My dad’s costume designer, Bill Whitten, would make me similar clothes out of all the excess fabric – a little jumpsuit or something. I started figure-skating when I was eight, and by the time I was 10 I had started competing. It was right around that time when Nancy Kerrigan wore a Vera Wang dress in the Winter Olympics. It had a white panel with sheer black sleeves. I loved that dress. Edna, who worked for Bill and who used to do my figure-skating costumes, finally said to me, “You have all these ideas. Come downtown and design the costumes yourself.” That was my first introduction to the design world as a whole. I had these visions in my head, and we started making them come to life.
AND THROUGH ALL THESE YEARS, WITH EVERYTHING ELSE YOU WERE DOING, WHAT MADE YOU STICK WITH FASHION?
It was just something I liked doing. I liked having an idea in my head. I would get so frustrated with liking something, and wanting to make it. I remember buying all these velvet ribbons and elephant charms and making chokers for my mom’s friends. It would cost me $10 to make them, and I’d sell them for $10. My parents were like, “Maybe you need a business partner. You have a lot to work on if you want to make any sort of profit.” For me, I was just having fun and showing people what I could make.
ARE YOU BETTER AT BUSINESS NOW?
I hope so, although it’s not my passion at all. It’s definitely an effort for me. My husband is much better at all that. I’m fine with that. That’s what a beautiful collaboration is – finding people who have strengths where your weaknesses are.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT YOUR SIMPLE LIFE DAYS?
I was 20 years old and I had the best time ever. The only other reality shows were Real World and The Osbournes, so there was no precedent of what this was going to be. That show took us out of our reality for 30 days. It didn’t focus on our lives here. I’ve always been able to maintain a level of privacy because there has never been that focus on our lives here. The concept was to put us in a diff erent state or environment. We were young. We had fun. We didn’t know where we were going. That show probably wouldn’t exist now.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR COLLABORATION WITH REVOLVE?
Revolve and I have a relationship because they sell my jewellery. I just love what they’re doing. I shop on the site, and I wanted to sit with them and they wanted to sit with me and talk about where I was going as a designer. I went downtown and saw their factory and we had a very long meeting. I saw the lines they were producing. I just immediately knew they were somebody I wanted to be in business with in a much bigger way. They’re young, cool, innovative thinkers, and they are constantly looking for new ways to get people excited about apparel and jewellery. I did my first collection for Revolve in June. We update it every month. By August, I really hit my stride, with leopard print coats and navy satin pant suits.
HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU AS A DESIGNER?
I live and breathe it. I wouldn’t spend my time doing this if I couldn’t 100 percent be there. It’s so exciting working with people that are all here in LA. LA was a huge inspiration for me. You’ll be able to see how we are all aligned with each other because we’re having the same experiences.
DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE THAT YOU DIDN’T GO TO FASHION SCHOOL?
[This business] is something I’ve had to just learn. It’s like throwing a baby in a pool. I love learning. I never turn my nose up at an opportunity where I’m able to be around someone who’s had more experience than me. Everybody knows what they’re good at, and everybody is assigned a certain task. I definitely stay in my lane. But if you stay in the business long enough, you figure it out.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR OWN STYLE?
This past summer, I was wearing a lot of slip dresses. I wear a lot of vintage. I go to thrift stores. I’m running around, I’m a mom, I’m working – I want clothes that I can run around in, [since] at any moment I have five bags in my hand and I’m not worried about what I’m wearing. It’s not like I love any one designer. I like what I like. There are Chanel pieces that I love, and there are pieces that I got at a vintage store that I love just as much and that I can keep for a long time. I’m a big fan of the peasant dress – that’s an everyday piece for me. The winter is more fun for me as far as dressing goes because I get to play with layering and construction. That’s when I’m able to get creative.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANY YOUNG FASHION DESIGNER STARTING OUT?
Be authentic to yourself, and surround yourself with people who have been in the business longer than you. Take every opportunity to just learn, to always keep your ear open and learn about every aspect of the business. Now is such an interesting time because there are so many changes in how we communicate with each other. But what’s more important is to tell your story in an authentic way, and get it out there.