“I don’t look at it as having bought seven things,” Nicole Richie says in all seriousness, surveying a pile of new acquisitions that includes a satiny seventies top, about a half-dozen Indian print dresses from the same era, and a fancy Chinese embroidered jacket. “All the dresses count as one, and then the satin top counts as one, and the jacket is one—so it really counts as three things,” she insists, surveying the spoils from a few hours of recent vintage shopping. It’s the kind of creative accounting that endears Richie to her fans—devotees of her web series #CandidlyNicole, followers of her witty, self-deprecating tweets (astonishingly, numbering more than four million), and not least, customers of her two youthful fashion lines—House of Harlow 1960 and Winter Kate.
Richie is also the preeminent proponent of a genre you might call L.A. vintage: a seriously casual, unstudied study of the joys of clothes from the last half-century or so. If the stereotype of an L.A. star-mom is someone who favors pastel velour pull-on pants by day, and full-on sex-goddess drag by night, Richie’s vintage enthusiasm represents a new kind of SoCal style. For picking up the kids at school, she might team a fluttery Stevie Nicks-esque blouse with tiny shorts and white Manolos; evenings frequently involve a sinuous dress with a serious provenance: frocks with labels like Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes (she is a major fan of British new wave designers, circa 1976).
She is clearly in the right place at the right time: the East Coast may remain the bastion of haute antiques—signed New England furniture; 19th-century diamond tiaras—but exuberant L.A. brims with the groovy cast-offs of the sixties through the nineties, a seemingly endless trove of shops spread throughout the sprawling town, with friendly process to match. Richie’s preferred aesthetic marks her, you might say, as a contemporary “Lady of the Canyon,” Joni Mitchell’s famous description of those hippie chickadees swanning around in their diaphanous dresses circa 1970. “I love the overall freedom of that time, the freedom of dressing back then!” Richie says. “The idea of clashing didn’t exist. I am a huge fan of classic rock, and I love the relationship between the music and the clothes.” (She is not the only one seduced by California vintage—no less a fashion eminence than Hedi Slimane is famously enraptured by the music and the mores of the archetypical cool L.A. woman.)
Richie confounds expectations in other ways—The Simple Life may endure in some quarters when her name comes up, but much has changed in the years since that early adventure in reality television. With all due respect to Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald, American lives brim with second acts: in the last decade, Richie has calmed down, grown up, and pulled herself from the brink, determined to avoid the sad fate of despair and dissolution that has brought low so many other Hollywood children of her generation. She is now the level-headed mother of Harlow, 5, and Sparrow, 4, and wife of the musician Joel Madden.
Her passion for vintage has its roots in her own L.A. mother, who handed over stacks of eighties Chanel bags and Alaïa skirts to an eager nascent-collector daughter (“We are the same size,” Richie says, by which she means well proportioned but decidedly diminutive). Standing in one of her many closet-rooms surrounded by what she estimates conservatively as roughly 40 percent of her clothes and 20 percent of her jewelry (the rest is in storage around town), she happily shows off current favorites: a deep scarlet, pearl-encrusted Zandra Rhodes confection, a daisy-dappled YSL, a Thea Porter jacket with a military air (assuming you had enlisted in Sergeant Pepper’s army); and a surfeit of Puccis, which Richie collects because “they fit me like a glove. I am attracted to color—I don’t get a lot of black pieces.”
Trays groan with signed jewelry, heavy on the Hermès, heavier still on the Chanel. “I’ve been collecting jewelry for as long as I remember—House of Harlow started with jewelry,” Richie explains. Today, a Chanel dog collar (an original intended for a genuine canine) is wrapped around her wrist twice, next to the Cartier Love bracelet she never takes off. Stacks of fitted cases house a sunglass universe that appears to number in the thousands—John Lennon octoganals and Lolita hearts, tiger-print squares, and hot pink circlets. “I like options,” she laughs.
But just because she seemingly owns enough frocks and baubles to run for years and never repeat, doesn’t mean that, with a few child-free hours to spare, a vintage shopping trip is in not order. We head first to Playclothes, where Richie comes under the sway of a red jumpsuit with a Rosie the Riveter air that is far too big but she is determined to alter, and a sheer orange gathered blouse just transparent enough to reveal the two fluttery wings tattooed on her back. At Shabon, an impressive assortment of Indian batik blouses and dresses find their way into her “yes” pile.
None of these are particularly expensive, which means that the savings (more creative accounting!) can be applied to the rarefied goods at Resurrection, where an Ossie Clark peplumed jacket, whose buoyant print bears the hallmarks of Clark’s famous wife/collaborator, the fabric designer Celia Birtwell is immediately snapped up, along with a long Zandra Rhodes scarf—to dangle Theodora Duncan style around a slender neck—and a pair of Chanel accessories, a leather and chain belt, and a double-C key ring.
“You can’t have too many of these! You know how you can never find your keys?” Richie asks, tossing the double Cs on top of the Ossie Clark. When she adds her current purchases to the growing stack of shopping bags in the car, the stash now approaches windshield level, but no worries! By the delightful reckoning of Richie-math, who’s to say it doesn’t all count as one?
Nov 05, 2013 – Vogue – Lynn Yaeger