If one thinks back only a few years, it seems almost impossible that the spoiled, tacky chipmunk-faced Robin to Paris Hilton's Batman in "The Simple Life" could have amounted to anything other than a cautionary tale on the excesses of L.A. stardom and the lows to which American culture can sink. But Nicole Richie continues to confound expectations, add to her style credibility, and make us smile. After shaking off a few years of Rachel Zoe-inspired overdressing and gossip-mag living, Richie has stayed sober, become a responsible mother, and developed her own, truly interesting take on late-'60s early '70s Southern California style with her lines House of Harlow 1960 and the new, steamy casuals collection, Winter Kate. Whodathunkit? For its inaugural season, Winter Kate, named after one of Richie's children, sticks to lush, unstructured, floral-print dresses, tops, and mini shorts—of the 40-piece spring collection, almost every one seems designed for when the mercury rises above 90°. If only to turn the steam bath into a blast furnace, Richie has model Vanessa Traina ('member her?) lounging about in semi-sheer tunic tops and teddy-style dresses in a gauzy lookbook straight out of some beach boy's 1976 daydream. We're starting to work up a sweat.
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