Lionel Richie’s Second Act
Music, it turns out, is only one of Lionel Richie’s passions. The singer/songwriter known for such pop hits as “Hello,” “All Night Long,” “Dancing on the Ceiling” and the Oscar Award-winning “Say You, Say Me” still maintains a demanding tour schedule and is starring in a reboot of American Idol that will premiere in March. But in 2016 he launched a passion project—a brand of high-end home accessories called Lionel Richie Home. “I’m trying to be a little disruptive because it’s not expected from me, but it also makes total sense,” says the 68-year-old performer.
Despite the apparent incongruity, Richie insists that this second act combines the skills he developed as a songwriter with his lifelong interest in interiors and home design. Among other projects, he has meticulously restored his home, a 28-room Beverly Hills mansion, built in 1929 for Carrie Guggenheim, which was featured in Architectural Digest and celebrates Richie’s admiration for history and travel. Traveling the world during a 40-plus-year career, Richie says, has informed his taste, which he now applies to his home collection.
Richie’s tabletop collection has been well received at high-end retailers. He is now releasing a bedding and bath line of products with Baltic Linen Co., a division of textile manufacturer Sobel Westex. Worth caught up with the singer recently to talk about his transformation into luxury goods entrepreneur.
What prompted you to launch your own home collection?
Design—creating—is a part of my soul. My business manager suggested it because I started designing my own things for my Beverly Hills house. I thought about what I don’t like about hotels. I hate the towels, or I hate the bed linens. To this day I carry my own sheets on the road. My pet peeve is that they’re never soft enough. So I started designing them.
But you’ve had a long career. This couldn’t have been the first business partnership suggested to you.
In the last 35 years, there wasn’t a lot of time. It’s just the last 10 years that the industry changed into the whole streaming thing, and we go from albums now to singles. I realized I already have a catalog. So I’m not chasing the rabbit. I’m now able to stop and take stock of the brand more than anything else.
Lionel Richie the brand. That sounds very methodical.
It does sound crazy. If you had said to me 25, 30 years ago that I’d be talking about the Lionel Richie brand in the third person, I would’ve thrown you out of the room because it was about the music. But since then, the music has changed so much. A guy said to me, “Lionel, how many people do you think know your name? A billion?” I said, “Yeah.” “You got a billion dollars?” he asked. “No.” But the guy who said that to me did have a billion, and he can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t act, and no one knows his name! So a bell went off. If you have a billion people who are aware of who you are, what else can we do?
What about the music?
I spent 40 years developing a catalog. You can’t get a catalog anymore. I think maybe Beyoncé and Rihanna—that’s going to be the last group [of artists] who actually has a volume of work. After that, artists will be known for maybe one, five, seven songs—that somebody else wrote—and whatever you have for an endorsement.
Then why not just do product endorsements?
When I was just getting going with my career, they asked me, “Do you want to endorse some things?” I answered no. And I put it off forever. I did it with Pepsi [in 1984], and then I never did it again. I could’ve gotten a great deal of me standing next to that big bottle of hard liquor, but it’s not who I am, so I said no. In my case, I’ve established an honest songwriting and producing credibility, and 37 years later I have a name that has no baggage.
Where does your interest in home design come from?
The outside of the home comes from my dad. He was the master at tree trimming and hedge clipping and edging. Our time together was Saturdays and Sundays when we cut the grass on our 2.3 acres of land. Depending on whether I was being punished or not, he would either do it with me or I did it by myself. The actual décor, that’s from Grandma Foster. She taught music [at Tuskegee University] and her sense of style was as grand as the music her students were playing. Her home was a cottage—sort of a Cape Cod house—and she had furniture that had belonged to George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. She and my grandfather collected, and she had discerning taste.
How are songwriting and design similar?
If you look at how I write, the trick is to write what people say every day: “stuck on you,” “love you truly,” “all night long.” If you’ve got that, then you never forget the songs. And for design, the trick is there are certain shapes and features that are familiar. For example, in my house there’s an original ribbon from 1929 that was adapted from a 13th century design. That’s familiar, and it is a great signature that is now part of my designs. lionelrichiehome.com