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Northwest native Lisa Rinna floats from the soaps to living her fashion fantasy
Special to The Seattle Times
LOS ANGELES — Lisa Rinna looks dreamily into space. No, she's not thinking about her husband, hunky actor Harry Hamlin — although talking about him elicits a similar response.
She's thinking about a chocolate éclair.
The Northwest native recalls Sunday afternoon post-church visits to Jacksonville Bakery in her hometown of Medford, Ore. "They were so good," sighs the reed-thin Rinna, who now lives in Los Angeles.
The former resident of "Melrose Place" and daytime soap "Days of Our Lives" epitomizes the "hometown girl does good."
Rinna's parents, Frank and Lois Rinna, and most of her childhood friends still live in the small southern Oregon town, which had its 15 minutes recently when it was featured prominently on an episode of ABC's "The Bachelorette."
"What I remember most about [Medford] is that it was a safe, cozy place. It was one of those yummy places where you know everyone," Rinna says. "For shopping, we had Sears, and that was about it. There wasn't a mall."
InformationIt's an unlikely beginning to a Hollywood story whose latest chapter finds Rinna keeping house on a sprawling hillside with her husband and their two daughters, Delilah Belle, 6, and Amelia Gray, 3. The girl who used to shop at Sears now runs a chic Sherman Oaks boutique called belle gray, hosts two shows on cable networks and occasionally guest stars with her husband on UPN's "Veronica Mars."
"Lisa was so ahead of everyone else, fashion-wise," recalls her mother, Lois. "She was crazy about Norma Kamali. She wanted this one Kamali dress so badly, and we couldn't find it anywhere."
Rinna, a self-professed "fashion addict," learned her hobby from her stay-at-home mother. With limited shopping in Medford, the duo visited San Francisco annually.
"I'd be exposed to the latest fashion," she says, a little glassy-eyed at the recollection. "I wanted access to fashion and this was my one shot at it."
Fast forward to May 2003, when Rinna opened belle gray (www.bellegray.com) — named for her daughters and designed by her husband.
"I wanted to open a store, to create my own closet that I love, in a store," she says. "I took a yellow legal pad, and I went into my closet and I wrote the things I buy, the lines I like."
Finding lines "wasn't an easy process," considering shop competitiveness — a store can't carry the same designers as another in close proximity. She landed Claire Stansfield, Juicy Couture, Theory, Blue Cult Jeans, Joes Jeans, Earl Jeans, Jet T-shirts, Diane Von Furstenberg dresses, Michael Stars T-shirts, VATO tank-tops and her own private label, belle gray.
In addition to clothing, Rinna stocks perfumes, candles, handbags and "comfy shoes." Prices range from $30 for a tank-top to just under $1,000 for diamond jewelry.
"Every day I'm not working, I'm there [in the shop]. That's the life of an actor," she said. "I never have to worry anymore about 'when my [acting] job ends, what am I going to do next?' I'm going to my store!"
Rinna devotes two days a week to each of her current hosting gigs, "Soap Talk" which airs daily on SoapNet (currently not available in the Seattle area) and "Merge," a home-design show for merging couples, on Lifetime. She recently finished shooting her third, and probably final, season of "Merge."
"People loved the show, but it had a terrible time slot — Fridays at 11 p.m.," she said.
Meanwhile, "Soap Talk," now in its third season, is still going strong.
"We shoot twice weekly, 140 shows a year, shooting three shows a day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's very easy," she said. Rinna and her husband also have recurring guest roles on the UPN hit "Veronica Mars" as the movie-star parents of cast regular Jason Dohring.
"I got hit with the acting bug again," she said of "Veronica Mars." "I've been doing all these talk shows, but I loved series work and might do that again."
Rinna's initial break was a recurring role on "The Hogan Family" in 1990, but she turned heads playing the troubled Billie Reed on daytime's "Days of Our Lives." She left the popular soap opera in 1995 but returned in 2002 for another year."It was insane doing the soap from 1992 to 1995," she said. "I don't even remember anything; it went so fast. It was a great training ground."
From there, she moved into "Melrose Place," where former residents included Marcia Cross and Doug Savant of "Desperate Housewives" and Courtney Thorne-Smith of "According to Jim." Rinna played Taylor McBride, the adulterous wife of a restaurateur, for two seasons from 1996 to 1998.
As for her home life, "there's no such thing as regular," says Rinna, cuddling with her 13-year-old golden retriever, Annie. "But I do keep to routines, especially with the kids." Sundays are sacrosanct. "Sunday is family day and we never, ever work. [It's] reserved for just the four of us." The family goes to a local farmers market, picks up the week's produce and visits the petting zoo.
Her girls are busy, too. "They do gymnastics, karate, tennis and ballet. They're busy, but it's great. They love Barbies, singing to their karaoke machine, disco dancing. They're very happy girls, riding around in their Barbie jeeps."
Rinna has high hopes for belle gray: "Hopefully it will become a franchise."
She says she visits her hometown once every two years, and when she's there, "we go to the new mall — it's exciting for me to see a mall in Medford. We always go to the movies. My friends from grade school come over and visit."
As for her fame, she says matter-of-factly, "It was a huge deal. It still is. I'm still that little girl from Medford. I don't come from an acting family, there was no nepotism. I really feel blessed. It still is a surprise to me, since I come from such a small-town environment — where it's not the norm to do what I've done."
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company