Sometimes strangers approach former Melrose Place vixen Lisa Rinna on the street to get her autograph. Sometimes they just want her clothes. The other day in Beverly Hills, "a woman from Omaha told me she had to have my shirt," says Rinna. "I told her, If it's not too disgusting to you, you can buy the one I'm wearing.' " The tourist gave her $236, and after buying a T-shirt from a nearby Barneys to wear, Rinna handed over her turquoise Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent peasant top.
If you're interested, there are simpler ways to get Rinna's clothes. The actress, best known as a Melrose
and Days of Our Lives
alum—and as the wife of actor Harry Hamlin—has reinvented herself as an arbiter of Hollywood fashion. The owner of two retail boutiques named Belle Gray, Rinna, 42, supplies the likes of Jessica Simpson
, Hilary Duff
and Melrose pals Heather Locklear
and Courtney Thorne-Smith with California casual-chic finds—Joe Bush denim gauchos, wraps by Anne Segal (retailer Fred's daughter) and Karen Zambos kimono dresses—that she personally selects. "You can always trust Lisa's taste," says buddy Joely Fisher. "If you have a party to go to, you can dash into Belle Gray and count on finding something perfect."
Local fashionistas seem to agree. Rinna's original store, in Sherman Oaks, and the bellegray.com Web site bring in $200,000 in sales monthly. She opened a second store in Calabasas in June. No one is more surprised—and fulfilled—by her success than Rinna. When the mom of two turned 40 in 2003, she says, she realized something was missing from her life. With her Mel-rose role ending in 1998, "I had just gone back to Days of Our Lives
for a six-month stint and I was hosting SOAPnet's Soap Talk twice a week, and I was bored," she says. "I felt like I needed more. I needed to re-create myself."
Hamlin, 53, her husband of eight years, signed on to help. "Lisa was always turning up on the best-dressed pages of magazines," he says. "It made sense for her to do more with that." He designed and help build the stores—hammering, painting and shuttling to Home Depot. Nowadays the former L.A. Law hunk sometimes serves as bait. "Harry's our secret weapon," says Rinna. "We make him camp out on the Belle Gray couch, and sales go way up!"
Despite early scores—such as helping to launch C&C California T-shirts, designed by a former acting-school friend, to national popularity—Rinna admits Belle Gray wasn't a slam dunk. The boutique almost went under when Rinna bought hundreds of thousands of dollars of excess merchandise for the store's first holiday season. Her savior: Oprah
Winfrey, who featured Belle Gray in November 2003. "One hour after it aired, our Web site was getting 700 hits per second," says Hamlin.
The pair live in a five-bedroom Mediterranean-style house in Beverly Hills, with daughters Delilah Belle, 7, and Amelia Gray, 4, after whom the stores are named. "We live a pretty normal life," says Rinna. "We watch Sponge-Bob with the kids and take them to school in the morning." They keep their marriage cooking by booking kid-free weekends away every few months. And keeping up appearances—like Rinna's famously lush lips? "Let's just say I do what I can to stay fresh," she says coyly.
Next up, the two will launch a third Belle Gray in September—if Hamlin can be coaxed back into his carpenter pants. "I'm exhausted," he says with a comic grimace. "But now that Lisa has been to Home Depot once, maybe she can take over."
"Honey, by the time we finish that store," says Rinna—maybe only halfjoking—"I'll be running Home Depot."