I’m driving North on the 101 in a giant Flaunt magazine cargo van and my stomach is in knots. Diagnosing my jitters, I realize that I am about to go on a Tinder date on steroids – that is to say, I am going to meet in person someone who I see in photos nearly every day. Sofia Richie, 18, is in many ways a regular teenager. She loves to listen to music and go shopping. She loves her four dogs (two of which I have seen and covet), her family, and her girlfriends. But there are a few important ways that Richie is not a normal teenager: she is the daughter of famed R&B superstar Lionel Richie, and sister to Nicole Richie, famous for her stint opposite BFF Paris Hilton on the aughties reality show The Simple Life. She is currently perhaps best known for her alliances with the Kardashians, Jenners, and Hadids of the world, as well as for her rumored relationship with Justin Bieber. And then of course she is also an up-and-coming model, having walked last fall in both the Yeezy and Chanel shows, and appearing in the just-released Tommy Hilfiger campaign.
Pulling the van up outside a concrete contemporary in the valley – rented by the hour via the newest contender in the sharing economy, Splacer – I enter the whirlwind of Richie’s shoot for Flaunt. There is a mattress on the floor, and pink and blue lights flood the sparse living room in a girlish glow, a playlist of unobtrusive hip-hop and R&B plays on the stereo, camera and lighting techs study monitors intently, and then Richie struts out of wardrobe wearing a fuzzy sweater and tights embroidered with flowers. She practically skips through the room, pausing at the snack table to take a bite of some Chinese takeout before flopping onto a mattress on the floor and regarding the camera. It’s possible to learn how to be comfortable in the spotlight, but the grace of those who are born into it is unmistakable.
Sofia Richie’s best girlfriend is Pia Mia. The Guamanian singer moved to L.A. when she was 13 and was discovered in a cafe within three months of landing stateside, she has been steadily gaining momentum since releasing an EP to great acclaim and dropping the single “We Should be Together” last December.
Historically speaking, friendships similar to Richie and Mia’s have tended to be significant. Take the case of Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald, who met when Monroe was in New York. Later that year, Fitzgerald came to Los Angeles on her tour, and auditioned to play at the Mocambo Club – the hottest venue in town and the place where Frank Sinatra got his start – but was denied on racial grounds. In an interview with Ms. Magazine years later, Fitzgerald recalled that: “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt… she personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night.” The owner agreed, and Monroe came to see Fitzgerald every night. “She was an unusual woman,” Fitzgerald continued, “a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
The power of friendship to transcend not only race, but class, life experience, and upbringing is one of the most under-celebrated of human achievements. Richie and Mia recognized a kindred spirit in one another despite one being music royalty and the other an ambitious unknown. They bonded in a way that should make anyone who doubts human goodness check themselves.
Origin stories are important. How we frame where we’ve come from dictates where we go. Speaking to Mia as Richie shoots one last look, I ask her for her version of their story: “We met through mutual friends years ago, and then we just started hanging out all the time. I think we’re just really similar, we’re both really silly and we like chilling.” Later, speaking to Richie in an outdoor lounge, she fills in the blanks: “I can’t remember exactly how we met, but once we met we did not leave each other for like, two years. It was amazing. We both started working once we got older, but there was one point where Pia and I literally lived together.” Same chords, different melody.
Contrary to Mia’s self-described shyness, Richie’s energy is infectious. It’s easy to see how she has avoided the negative attention that many of her colleagues have fallen victim to. In her cover story in Complex last December, the writer bemoans the crashing of her interview by Richie’s newest BFF, model Bronte Blampied, but Richie’s closeness with her girlfriends is the key to understanding her. It’s rare for a teenage girl to be so free of competitive edge towards her fellow female, but Richie assures me that she’s always been this way, stating plainly, “I don’t really feel competition. Ever.” Case in point: Blampeid and Richie became acquainted after Blampeid was rumored to have dated Richie’s alleged ex Bieber, shutting down a potentially lucrative storyline for the gossip rags. Whether planned or not, Richie’s realness is one of her greatest assets.
Another asset is of course, her social media influence. Pushing her signature blonde hair back and taking a drag of her Parliament, Richie tells me of the responsibility that comes with having almost two million people glued to your every post: “I [had] a moment, a realization that I have a voice and that I need to use it in the best way that I can.” That way, for Richie, is to always show her true colors. “I’m 100% myself on social media, so I hope that people understand what I’m trying to do when I post something.”
It’s a sincere effort at intimacy, but to really know another person takes time and genuine human contact. As Mia said earlier regarding her friendship with Richie: “Soph and I have seen every side of each other. Being able to get through every type of obstacle in life together is really special, and I think it’s rare to find friends that you can really go through anything with.” The clock, as always, is against us: Richie needs to take off imminently to fly to New York for Fashion Week where she will walk in Philipp Plein’s show and attend her close friend Jeremy Scott’s show.
Whether it’s her inevitable rise as the model du jour, or the sure-to-be success of her upcoming clothing line, or whether her dalliances in music produce anything concrete, Richie is taking it in stride – not letting either her wins or losses tip her boat. Loading the mattress into the van after Richie has been whisked to the airport, I recall something she said in regards to how she chooses her friends: “I have a lot of guy friends, but I have a very limited amount of girlfriends. I look for something really particular in my girlfriends, which is loyalty, honesty, trust, and ‘ride or die.’ We have each other’s backs.”
Written by Amy Marie Slocum
Photographer: Zoey Grossman
Stylist: Zoe Costello for Atelier Management
Art Director: Mui-Hai Chu
Hair: Rob Talty for Forward Artists using Bumble and Bumble
Makeup: Samuel Paul for Forward Artists using Becca Cosmetics
Manicure: Jacqueline Yekikan for Opus Beauty using Chanel Le Vernis
Location: Property from Splacer Available at Splacer.co Marketplace for Event Spaces