The evolution of Nicole Richie has taken place in full view of the prying public eye. The fashion icon has come a long way since she burst onto the scene in the reality TV show “The Simple Life” in 2003. Over the past decade, Richie has grown from a tabloid staple into the driving force behind several fashion labels, and she has served as a mentor on NBC’s “Fashion Star” since the show debuted in March 2012.

Today, Richie’s fashion labels continue to grow. Launched in 2008, House of Harlow 1960 is her accessories line and includes jewelry, shoes, eyewear and bags. Winter Kate is her mid-priced bohemian casualwear brand, and it debuted in 2010. Each is designed to appeal to women with fashion sense that is both vintage and modern, and they can be worn in any environment and still convey confidence and style.

Richie’s work also includes A Pea in the Pod, her one-time exclusive collection of maternity clothes, as well as a capsule collection for Macy’s Impulse.  The most recent addition to her growing arsenal is the QVC Nicole Richie Collection, which debuted on the Home Shopping Network’s “The Buzz on the Red Carpet – Live From L.A.” in February 2012.

Despite the fact that her labels launched at a time when the U.S. economy and retail environment were enduring an evolution of their own, Richie’s releases have taken hold thanks to an affordable price point. Since their launch, the brands have expanded into more than 20 countries.

Richie’s fashion work has been recognized for its excellence on several occasions. In 2010, Richie was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” for her House of Harlow 1960 brand at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. In addition, House of Harlow 1960 was nominated in the “Celebrity Fashion Line” category at the 2010 Teen Choice Awards. In 2011, Richie was named “Style Influencer of the Year” at the Accessories Council’s ACE Awards.

Partnership Power

One of the major partners in Richie’s journey has been Majestic Mills, a vertical spinning, knitting and dyeing business. The company evolved from an industrial manufacturing background and has capabilities that extend from the creation and spinning of yarns all the way through knitting, dyeing and sewing. Not only does the company produce House of Harlow 1960 and Winter Kate products, its portfolio includes Modern Vintage footwear, Heidi Klum footwear and Earnest Sewn denim.

“We’ve been working together for four, almost five years,” says Brian Cytrynbaum, co-owner of Montreal-based Majestic Mills. “The thing about Nicole is that her aesthetic is true to her. We’ve been building on true lifestyle aesthetics that translate globally and has a very specific point of view from the outset.”

A key reason why Richie’s fashion empire has begun to grow is her involvement with the creative process. She works closely with her design team every day to ensure that the products ultimately reflect the look and feel that Richie has become known for.

“Nicole is the creative director; she sets the tone for the collection,” Cytrynbaum says. “Her inspirations get down into very specific details that she wants to see in the collection. Our team tries to build on that based on her direction. We present our work to her and go back and forth through everything. The products are a work in progress as we make iteration changes until we get to a final sample on what she was looking for.”

As Richie’s fashion lines continue to build toward what all involved believe will stand alongside the great celebrity fashion empires, her appeal to a wide range of women should help the brands’ expansion efforts. “Nicole has a diverse consumer fan base and is very relatable,” Cytrynbaum says. “Her design capabilities makes her one of the few that is very authentic.”

The target demographics for Richie’s products is someone Cytrynbaum described as “an ‘it’ girl, a cool girl.”  This consumer is someone who Richie and her partners believe are implicitly drawn to Richie’s sense of style. Once this target consumer adorns herself with Richie’s products, it is that much easier for others to follow.

“The natural person who associates with Nicole is essentially someone who others want to be like,” Cytrynbaum says. “That allows us to grow in a top-down kind of way.”

The Core of the Categories

Thus far, the primary segments that Cytrynbaum feels have been instrumental in building the brand are the apparel, footwear, handbags and eyewear, along with the jewelry line. Those represent the core of the categories that have been developed to this point, and Cytrynbaum believes growth has been sustainable because of the preplanning that has been involved in rolling product out in an organized fashion.

As for the product segments where he sees opportunities for growth, Cytrynbaum is looking forward to this year’s fall launch of House of Harlow 1960 apparel. The apparel collection will be available at more of an opening price point, which he feels will help the brand appeal to a vast array of Richie’s consumer base.

“The collection will still be focused on the premium market, but it will come with an opening price point at premium stores,” he says.

That should help the collection to take hold during a time when brands face the challenge of maintaining relationships with retailers and ensuring shelf space. Cytrynbaum feels that the quality of the product lines, along with Richie’s highly visible persona, helps the brands stay connected with high-end department and specialty stores.

“First of all, the product must be able to stand out on its own in the stores,” he says. “That is our focus, and I think that we’ve done a great job of making sure that the quality and design of the products carry their own weight. In addition, we emphasize the breadth of the collection, the price point and being in tune with what the market wants.” Cytrynbaum also noted that Richie regularly visits the retailers that showcase her brands.

Collecting feedback from consumers and retailers has been another important part of driving the brands’ direction. Richie and her partners collect direct feedback from customers and retailers in face-to-face settings, and comments through online and social media channels have also been helpful.

“Our customers have taken a proactive approach to let us know that the California lifestyle is becoming more prevalent over time on a global level,” Cytrynbaum says. “It really does have its own specific aesthetic, and Nicole is part of this strong movement toward the California lifestyle. That has been extremely important and helped drive demand for Nicole and her authentic place as an original.”

At the Forefront

As “Fashion Star” moves into its second season, Richie’s visibility in popular culture will only be enhanced. From her mentor’s chair, Richie will once again work with the contestants in their efforts to create clothes that will be purchased by buyers from Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue or Express. Her presence on “Fashion Star” will also help increase the traction that her House of Harlow 1960, Winter Kate and QVC collections already have with consumers.

“E-commerce is important, and QVC has been huge for continued awareness, especially from the online perspective,” Cytrynbaum says. “And it goes without saying that ‘Fashion Star’ helps further Nicole’s visibility and increase sales. The show has been quite the success.”

Cytrynbaum believes the explosive brand growth will continue over the next 12 to 24 months. But he also knows the challenges will be magnified as Richie’s brands work to reach out on a larger scale internationally.

“As you move outside of the U.S. and further from home, everything gets harder to manage,” he says. “The shipping, logistics and procurement division has a lot of moving parts. But as we move into many countries, we will help to manage Nicole’s marketing and appearances while making sure that our message remains constant and clear.”

Cytrynbaum feels that Richie is far more than a titan of the celebrity world. He feels she is extremely bright and intuitive and that those characteristics will be the reasons behind the growth of Nicole Richie’s brand platforms.

“She is the reason that this is not only financially successful, but also a really enjoyable process and proposition,” Cytrynbaum says. “We are consistently working to put more effort behind the brands because of her and her character. She has turned out to be an exemplary partner and incredibly involved in every single detail.”

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