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Nicole Richie’s Success Keeps Sprouting

“Look!” screams Nicole Richie. “Look how hot Iro is!” Iro is Nicole and her husband, Good Charlotte rocker Joel Madden’s German shepherd. “I just look at him sometimes and think he is so manly and strong. He’s everything a woman could ask for, so you know, I understand if Joel gets jealous.” We’re sitting in the Richie-Madden’s enchanting L.A. backyard, which features a pool, garden and terraced stone wall, on possibly one of our most formal hangouts to date as I attempt to interview my best friend of 15 years for the cover of Paper.

I want to find out what Nicole does when she’s not admiring her dog or bouncing around to ’90s hip-hop in the car with me. Apparently, she’s really busy. “I wake up around 5:30, before the rest of my family, and that’s my time alone,” she says. “Then I spend some time tending to my garden.” She and Joel have two young children: Harlow, their six-year-old daughter, and Sparrow, their four-year-old son. Nicole is the creative director of her super-successful fashion brand House of Harlow 1960 (named after her daughter). She also has an eponymous top-selling fragrance and is gearing up for the VH1 iteration of her AOL reality web series #CandidlyNicole, based on her hilarious Twitter account (Time named the account one of the best of 2013). “People who type with their iPhones on loud are barbarians and probably killers” is one of my favorite tweets of hers because I couldn’t agree more. So is “I would rather get a colonic in front of everyone, than parallel park in front of anyone.” Her distinct language kills me. And she does all this while managing to make bold, tasteful fashion choices and have really great skin.

OK, it’s truth-telling time. When Paper asked me to interview Nicole I was a little concerned. Not because I’ve known her since our pre-texting high school days when we lived and died for our two-way pagers and this could be weird, but because I was afraid I would finally have to admit that I’m her biggest fan. So guys, between us, as the interviewer here (I have great skin too, by the way, but I make terrible fashion choices) I am not super impressed by Nicole’s ability to balance so much, so gracefully. I mean honestly, I’m more impressed by people who drink the recommended amount of water than I am by Nicole on a day-to-day basis.

As if she weren’t busy enough, Nicole and the Richie-Madden family have been growing their own fruits and vegetables for the past six months. Every day Nicole tells me how “great and calming” gardening has been. Now they have, like, an entire Whole Foods in their backyard. I make her walk me through everything she’s growing (mostly for you guys because she’s tried before and I don’t care). “We have apple trees, blueberry trees, lemon trees, strawberries, butter lettuce, arugula, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, mint, thyme, oregano and sage.” Lionel Richie (Nicole’s dad, for the two people who might not know) guest-starred in an episode of #CandidlyNicole on AOL and expressed equal enthusiasm for gardening. But Nicole clarifies that her dad is “more of a landscaping type of guy, and I’m more of an edible garden person.”

A green thumb isn’t the only thing Nicole gets from her pop-star dad. “Music plays a huge role in my life and is a huge inspiration for my brand,” says Nicole. “It’s constantly surrounding me at all times.” Which also explains how her Pandora stations are always, always on point. Me? I get way too nervous to choose music at a party with normal people who have varying musical tastes, let alone at Nicole’s where there are always professional musicians around. I really don’t know how she handles the pressure! If I could steal anything from Nicole, it would be her ability to have the best music on for any occasion. “I have a few favorite stations,” she says. “On the weekends we have Louis Armstrong radio on, which I would highly recommend to anybody. When I’m outside gardening, I listen to a ’60s playlist, a lot of the Kinks, a lot of America — I love ‘Sister Golden Hair.’ And then I also play ‘House of the Rising Sun’ radio a lot.” The music doesn’t stop or change when the kids are around either. “I want them to be educated in music and get to know music,” she explains. And yes, she admits that they are “obsessed with Frozen” right now — it’s the soundtrack to their morning commute to school — but they’ve also known about the Beatles and Cat Stevens since they could walk.

In many ways, it seems like Nicole’s life is coming full circle. She’s raising her kids in Hollywood, the same stomping grounds she grew up on. “The best part about raising kids here is that I was never told that being gay or mixed race was different at all. It’s such a big melting pot, and everybody is so open-minded and welcoming here, I don’t know where else I would raise them.” Though Madden was raised in suburban Maryland, they see their different upbringings as a blessing. “We’ve obviously gone back and forth because we did grow up so differently, and there are aspects about the way he was raised that I wish I’d had and vice versa. We just apply both of those ideas to our family.”

Having exploded into the public eye with Paris Hilton in the 2003 reality series The Simple Life, she’s now back to reality TV — on her own terms this time — with #CandidlyNicole. The VH1 version, like the AOL series, will feature Nicole interacting with professionals from different industries, questioning them in her quintessentially irreverent way. “I met with Telepictures — they had been a fan of my Twitter — and we just wanted to have a fun platform to dig deeper into the things I was talking about.”

Twitter’s a big part of Nicole’s life. She’s been able to use social media to talk directly to her fans and take some control over what people see and hear of her. And she loves keeping up with other funny tweeters. “Kelly Oxford, Jenny Johnson, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman…I’m always looking to laugh, so anyone who can make me do that, I’m down.”

Nicole says she chose to do the show on the Web first because she felt like it was a safer place to try things out. “I found myself interviewing people in a very non-traditional sort of way. I love stepping into people’s worlds and seeing different walks of life, but I wasn’t sure if people were going to get it or not.” They did. The series had 20 million views, averaging one million views per episode. But does she like reality TV? “I love it!” she says, with zero hesitation. “We have some great ideas for the show. I’m so excited to step back into that world because I have so many questions, just for myself.”

Nicole’s vibrant personality and personal style have made her a household name and brand. Los Angeles generally isn’t considered the center of the fashion world, though Hedi Slimane, who is currently the creative director for Saint Laurent Paris, and Greg Chait, the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund winner behind the Elder Statesman, both have studios here. But Richie is a pioneer in the fashion industry out West, creating the de facto boho-chic look for hip, style-centric Los Angelenos. She’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to fashion. I have so many memories of her wearing things like scarves on her head and oversized sunglasses that I thought were crazy and then seeing everyone else wearing them six months later. She became interested in fashion when she was 10 years old. She was a competitive figure skater (it’s her coolest secret talent) and started creating her own costumes with her dad’s costume designer. In March she released her first clothing collection for House of Harlow 1960. (She has been designing accessories under the name since 2009.) The entire line looks and feels so Nicole with its gauzy everyday blouses and embroidered peasant dresses, that the clothes couldn’t have been created by anyone else. “I love L.A. style because seasons don’t really play a role. I’m able to wear whatever I want, whenever I want,” says Nicole. “It gives me the opportunity to experiment and try new looks.”

Iro walks by again and catches Nicole’s attention. He is a really handsome dog, I’ll give him that. But then there are her two nameless turtles. “Sparrow wanted turtles for his birthday, so I got them for him, and he has not looked at them since,” says Nicole. “I hated these turtles. I wanted nothing to do with them. They don’t even have names. They were just pointless pets sitting in this cage.” That is, until Nicole started going down a Pinterest black hole where she was inspired to build the reptiles a new home. “I legit invented the ‘turtle coop,’ and then I built them the most beautiful outside lagoon that you have ever seen,” she boasts. “Now they’re mine. No one takes care of them but me.”

Aside from turtle coops, Nicole has a deep interest in designing for the home and for her kids. She has plans to expand her empire to include home goods and children’s clothing, for which she has a secret weapon. “Harlow’s interested in what I do, and I’m going to bring her in and show her. But more importantly I really respect her eye,” explains Nicole. “Nobody knows kids better than an actual kid. So I’ll be using her eye when I move into kids’ apparel.”

The idea of becoming a grown-up has always scared me. I describe myself as a “bossy tween” but Nicole makes real-life adulthood look fun and not at all scary. “My idea of being a grown-up was living behind a white picket fence and changing who you were — getting a bob and wearing beige,” Nicole says, “but I found freedom through my brand and being myself and being able to do it my way.” Which is really the essence of House of Harlow 1960. “I really just want to empower people to feel like they’re strong enough to make their own decisions.”

At the end of the day, Nicole, Joel, Harlow and Sparrow are a normal, traditional family. Joel might be covered in tattoos, and Nicole’s hair might be purple, but it’s all part of her ethos: do it your way. When I ask Nicole what she’s most proud of, she answers quickly. “My family, my work and my turtle coop.” OK, fine. I’m a little impressed, but no one needs to let her know.

Apr 2014 – Paper Magazine – Written by Sophia Rossi