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Nicole Richie’s Not-So-Simple Life

“When I first met Nicole, I didn’t know what to expect,” says British supermodel and Transformers: Dark of the Moon actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. “I grew up knowing Nicole from watching The Simple Life, so when I first met her, I was completely blown away. She’s just so put together, she runs all of these businesses, and she’s so dedicated to her husband and kids. She amazes me.”

“Amazing” is one word to describe the life of Nicole Richie, the scion of an ’80s pop legend, who in the past 10 years has gone from wisecracking reality-TV sidekick to magnate of her own high-fashion empire. Sitting pretty atop her decidedly laid-back LA throne, this designer, style icon, New York Times best-selling author, TV personality, Fashion Star mentor, wife of rocker Joel Madden, cofounder of the Richie-Madden Children’s Foundation, and mom to Harlow and Sparrow has become a darling of fashion critics and an inspiration to style-seeking women around the globe. And since the 2009 debut of her House of Harlow 1960 jewelry line, Richie has joined a growing cadre of celebrity designers in bringing her signature Southern California style to the masses through her eponymous line sold via West Chester’s own QVC.

Richie and Huntington-Whiteley were introduced just last year through their mutual stylist but have become fast friends, sharing the kind of rapport that usually comes only with years of friendship. (“I fell in love right away,” says Huntington-Whiteley with a laugh. “I fell in love, too,” Richie chimes in.) Here the Burberry model digs in to learn more about her high-styling, business-savvy friend—and to discuss their obsession with all things fashion.

ROSIE HUNTINGTON-WHITELEY: Let’s talk about something we both love: fashion. Describe your style for me.
NICOLE RICHIE: I’ve always been someone who’s extremely relaxed in my everyday life. I’m not the girl who can wear awful seven-inch heels all night. I keep it simple—I consider myself to be a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl who just accessorizes a lot. But I try to focus less on the actual items and more on the way they make me feel. I like color around my face because it does something to me emotionally. I don’t like to wear black because it brings me down.

RHW: You have such an amazing innate style. Vogue even said that you exemplify the LA vintage/SoCal look. Who did you get your sense of style from?
NR: My mom. She had this huge bathtub, and I’d sit in it and watch her get her hair and makeup done. There were just shelves of Chanel bags and vintage Azzedine Alaïa skirts and the craziest outfits, because she was going out with my dad every night. And I’d just watch her and I’d think to myself, That’s what I want to look like when I’m older.

RHW: How did you initially get into fashion?
NR: Back in the ’80s, my dad had a costume designer named Edna, and she would make me matching tour outfits out of his excess fabric. We’re talking jewels and sequins, very flashy. She’d let me come to work with her in downtown LA, and she showed me how she makes all these costumes. When I started competitively figure skating when I was 9, she and I designed all of my costumes together, and I just knew that it was something I wanted to do.

RHW: Having children has changed your life in many ways, but has it changed how you dress?
NR: I’m still wearing the same stuff, the same jeans, the peasant tops. I’ve always been someone who’s extremely relaxed in my everyday life, and then when I go out, I like dressing up.

RHW: That’s good; I’m glad to hear that. I’m always wondering if it’s going to change and if I’m going to end up looking really mumsy.
NR: Um, no, you’re never going to look really mumsy! You could be bald and you’d still be the most gorgeous mother ever.

RHW: What about your daughter, Harlow? Is she into fashion?
NR: She’s more of an artist. She’s into playing with makeup; she loves doing her hair and putting outfits together. She’s just so feminine—and way more girlie than me.

RHW: What else inspires you?
NR: I’m hugely inspired by the ’60s and the ’70s. I just love the music of that time and the overall freedom of that era. I love that the idea of clashing didn’t really exist. You could mix prints on prints, you could mix fabrics and colors—and it was more about the way you felt than about the label and trends. That’s something that I’ve always gravitated toward, and that’s something I’ve always tried to bring to House of Harlow and my QVC line.

RHW: That’s so fab. Speaking of your fashion lines, let’s get into how you got your start as a designer.
NR: Once I really started understanding my own style, I realized how much I loved costume jewelry. I’m talking the Gucci and YSLs from the ’70s, pieces I relate to and love wearing. So I met with my now-partner Pasquale, and in 2009 we started House of Harlow 1960. He really let me have the freedom to take the reigns with the jewelry, which came naturally to me. Since I obviously didn’t go to design school, I wanted to start small and get to know the business before I expanded it. I then found my other partner, launched a ready-to-wear footwear line, and expanded again. I’ve been going very slowly.

RHW: But now you’re taking a pretty big leap with the upcoming House of Harlow apparel launch.
NR: Doing apparel under the House of Harlow brand is something I’ve wanted to do forever. I’m just really excited about this collection. It’s easy to wear, it’s feminine, it’s free-spirited, and it’s all under $300. The launch is in the spring, and it’ll be online in March on houseofharlow1960.com and shopbop.com.

RHW: What about your collection with QVC?
NR: QVC is nuts. It’s so big that every time I go to the headquarters in West Chester, I think it’s like Jurassic Park, only without the dinosaurs. QVC is just so in tune with its customers, and it’s something totally different than House of Harlow in that respect. When you go in there as a designer, you have to focus on who their customer is. Things like what their needs are, what fabrics they’re drawn to, their likes and dislikes, down to what’s their climate. It’s just a totally different world for me.

RHW: As you know, I do my own little line in the UK with Marks & Spencer. It’s a great way to learn about what real women want, isn’t it?
NR: It’s also great to work with people who study women. When I’m doing my own House of Harlow collection, it’s really up to me to get to know my customers. So we’re talking about a completely new introduction, and then it takes a while to figure out who that person is. When you’re partnering with QVC, they know, and they continue to study. It’s really informative, whether you’re a designer or not, because you can understand where different women around the country are coming from.

Feb 24, 2014 – Philly Style Mag – As told to Marni Prichard Manko