Kohls; MTV; Instagram; Getty Images; Backgrid/E! Illustration
It’s always the quiet ones.
When Lauren Conrad was singled out for reality TV stardom 11 years ago, the Laguna Beach-bred teen seemed like the exact opposite of what casting agents normally looked for. She wasn’t a raging partier, she didn’t hate her parents, she had ambitions and interests that extended beyond seeing where the MTV spotlight took her and, most of all, she was nice.
Seriously, what was a nice girl like her doing on The Hills?
Well, the MTV folks knew what they were doing, and L.C. was soon enmeshed in enough drama with fellows and frenemies to keep the show’s legions of fans interested—but not so much that it seriously infringed on her potential for a real life once the cameras stopped rolling.
Rather, Conrad took the reputation she built up over the years—in all its basic glory—and crafted one heck of a career for herself. And the big picture just got infinitely prettier this week upon the arrival of Liam James Tell, her first child with her husband of almost two years, William Tell.
But from the very beginning, Lauren was always the “together gal.”
To think it all started with a Teen Vogue internship and sharing an apartment in West Hollywood with her good friend Heidi Montag…
Well, technically it started with Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.
“I had fun with it, and it got me where I am today,” Conrad told E! News all the way back in July 2006 when The Hills had been on for about a month and she was asked if she had any regrets about letting cameras into her life.
She originally thought she was being featured in “a documentary about a group of friends,” and she never expected the show to blow up like it did.
Conrad always knew, though—before, during and after Laguna Beach—that she wanted to do something in fashion. Hence the running thread of stability through The Hills that proved too strong for Brody Jenner, Jason Wahler, Speidi and any heartbreak or back-stabbing antics to break.
Not that the thread didn’t fray…
Most memorably, at the end of season one, Conrad chose the tempting promise of an idyllic summer with Wahler in Malibu over a dream internship in Paris. Sure, now we know it all worked out and not picking Paris was just part of the journey to the right places she did need to be, but…
In hindsight, who was OK with this madness?!
“He screws up more than some guys,” Ryan Seacrest observed while interviewing Lauren for E! News in 2006, as the roller coaster that was their relationship was first playing out on TV and they were still dating. “…I watch him sometimes and think, ‘ah dude, let’s have a do-over! You shouldn’t have done that or said that.’ But he’s always trying to kiss up to you…Are you guys going to be together forever?”
“Forever and ever,” Conrad quipped.
Anyway, Jason turned out to not be the guy Lauren was hoping was underneath all the heartbreak he was causing her. (He’s since gotten his life together, married and—coincidence!—is expecting his first child this summer with Ashley Slack, but his breakup with Lauren preceded a downward spiral that included multiple arrests and trips to rehab.)
“After we went on a break from filming, it was like a couple weeks in, I finally decided to end things. We broke up. I said you have three days to get your stuff out, I’m having the locks changed on Monday,” Lauren said last year, revealing new details about their split on MTV’s 10th anniversary Hills special, That Was Then, This Is Now. “So when I saw Jason that day, it was the first time I had seen him since we had broken up. It was really hard. What made it harder was I could see he wasn’t sober.”
She continued, “That really broke me, because I felt like a responsibility to take care of him, and I felt like when we broke up I was abandoning him. Because there were a lot of nights that I was getting 2 a.m. phone calls and I had to go pick him up passed out in the back of a club. So I was like who is doing that now, I know he doesn’t have friends who are doing it…I was like, oh god, no one is taking care of him.”
“We were sad for her, but in the long run, we knew it was best,” added Kathy, Lauren’s mom.
On The Hills, during their tearful goodbye scene where Lauren was dropping off a bunch of Jason’s stuff, he hopefully asked if she’d still be his buddy.
“Can’t be a normal buddy, though. Doesn’t work,” she said sadly. “Why?” he asked. “‘Cause I can’t, ’cause it’s you!” she exclaimed. So Lauren drove off and Jason remained, a trash bag full of belongings at his feet.
Ooh, Hills chills.
But life certainly went on for Lauren, with her responsibilities mounting at Teen Vogue and a new (ultimately not-momentous) romance with Brody Jenner producing some fresh butterflies.
“It wasn’t the best timing for me, and I didn’t really want it filmed if I was going to go to Paris,” she tried to explain away the decision that the world would soon find out she regretted when season two of The Hills premiered in January 2007. “I will go,” she told E! News, most resolutely.
And she did go, with Whitney Port, in 2008—and it made for some incredibly uneventful moments on The Hills. Even the guy she met abroad turned out to be a guy that producers had set her up with, determined to give her a Parisian romance.
However, to make up for how unappealing that must have been at the time, there is now an enviable Paris travel guide on LC’s website courtesy of @finduslost.
In a way, though, Lauren Conrad’s entire post-Hills life has been the picture-perfect response to everything untoward that happened to her, from her messy breakup and early stumbles at work to her falling out with Heidi and lessons learned about the fragility of some friendships.
Meanwhile, she deftly used The Hills to jump-start her own fashion career. She launched her Kohl’s line, LC Lauren Conrad, in the spring of 2009, and the collaboration—which in addition to trendily breezy, super-affordable clothes includes jewelry, shoes, bags and swimwear—continues to this day (and, not surprisingly, recently expanded to include maternity wear).
While showing E! around her set-up at one of Kohl’s’ L.A. stores, Conrad also chattered happily about decorating her new little beach cottage in Laguna Beach in all teal and white, and she stopped to admire some dishes—in hindsight, easily a sign that a lifestyle site was just around the corner.
And as The Hills was winding down and the drama was ramping up for the likes of Heidi and Spencer Pratt, who had sucked most of the plot oxygen out of the show’s final seasons on their own, Conrad buckled down and got to work on her first book, the inspired-by-her-life novel L.A. Candy.
So by the summer of 2009, Conrad had joined Twitter, was on a book tour, had a clothing line and was gearing up for the well-curated life off-camera.
By the time The Hills signed off in July 2010, it was clear LC was over it. Reality TV had given her all it was going to—and she took it for all it was worth.
“When I did television, scandal was always around me,” she reflected to Cosmopolitan in 2015. “And I think one of the best things [about that] for me is that your life becomes more big-picture. You have to develop a thick skin really quickly. It toughened me up, which is good.”
Conrad added, “Television was just sort of an accident…I never felt really strongly about it. But fashion is something I feel passionate about If I hadn’t done TV, I still would have ended up in the industry, but I definitely wouldn’t be in the position I am now.”
Conrad first left The Hills intending to have another show that focused more on her career, but by October 2010 when E! News caught up with her at the Teen Vogue Young Hollywood party, they hadn’t started filming and the project eventually fizzled.
No big deal, though. She released two more novels, Sweet Little Lies and Sugar and Spice, as well as the photo-heavy fashion tome Lauren Conrad Style; then in 2011, Conrad launched the get-the-look site The Beauty Department with her makeup artist and hair stylist, which was followed by the launch of Paper Crown, her own line of contemporary clothing (and, more recently, bridesmaid dresses).
“Style and fashion can empower young women and teens, because when you feel good about the way you look and the way you’re dressing, it helps with your self-esteem,” Conrad explained her M.O. in a Barnes & Noble Meet the Writers interview in 2010. “While appearances aren’t always the most important [thing], I think that all girls want to feel pretty and feel good about themselves.”
Lauren Conrad Beauty came out in 2012, and LA Candy spun off into a new book franchise, The Fame Game. In 2013 she and friend Hannah Skvarla opened The Little Market, a nonprofit site dedicated to selling fair-trade goods made by women around the world.
Of course, Conrad’s decidedly uncontroversial answers and explanations, and her amiable, elevated-girl-next-door vibe created their own controversy when somehow she was slapped with the “basic”—and subsequently the “basic bitch”—label for her entirely inoffensive ways.
Conrad, not going to be able to argue that she was actually an anarchic rebel looking to create a never-before-seen aesthetic, decided to embrace the basic for the better.
“I probably am pretty basic,” she told Cosmo in 2015. “But I’m also a pretty happy person, so that’s OK with me.”
Larry Busacca/Getty Images for PMK*BNC
There has also been nothing average about how Conrad set about building a business empire and is now a fashion and lifestyle mogul at 31. She can’t help it that her life just looks really good on Instagram.
Meanwhile, as all this was unfolding, Conrad went on a blind date with USC law student and musician William Tell in February 2012—on Valentine’s Day, to be exact.
And—no drama here—that was that. They moved in together and he popped the question in October 2013 with a round diamond solitaire engagement ring.
“He didn’t even ask my friends [about what sort of ring to get], which was a bold move,” Conrad told Cosmopolitan the following month. “He said, ‘I know you, and I know what you like.’ And I love it. It’s perfect.”
Tell graduated from law school in May 2014 and they married that Sept. 13 at a winery in Southern California’s Santa Ynez Valley. The bride wore Badgley Mischka and Hills alum Lo Bosworthwas one of her nine Paper Crown-clad bridesmaids.
“We’re very good partners,” Conrad gushed to Us Weekly about her new husband. “We challenge each other, in a good way. And we both think we’re hilarious, so we spend a lot of time laughing. Mostly at each other!”
They also share a love of entertaining, though Conrad admitted last year that not every day of her life is ripped right from the pages of her 2016 book Lauren Conrad Celebrate.
“Now that I’m throwing parties with my husband, William, I have to keep in mind that he prefers—how do I say this— easier themes than what I’ve done in the past,” she told Redbook. “He doesn’t like to feel that he’s asking friends to go out of their way. So now we do a birthday hoedown because everyone owns a pair of cutoffs and a plaid shirt. I’m learning how to compromise!”
The couple announced that they were expecting in January and, while her business is booming, Conrad’s private life became increasingly private, as she opted to not show off every stage of her pregnancy or offer up a tour of her son’s nursery, or talk all that much about impending motherhood. (She did enjoy a beachfront babymoon and add a lot of maternity style and baby-prep content to her website, however.)
But she didn’t reveal the baby’s sex (via Instagram) until June 2, and her May baby shower was a low-key, albeit photogenic, affair at her parents’ house in San Juan Capistrano, hosted by her mother and mother-in-law.
Brian Bowen Smith/Fit Pregnancy/Parents
It wasn’t until Conrad was in the final stages of her pregnancy that she popped up on the cover of Fit Pregnancy and revealed that, while she didn’t always have a plan (“it wasn’t until I was married that it was a real conversation”), once she had made one she was doing her best to stick to it.
“I’m running my own businesses, so it’s difficult to give myself maternity leave. But I’ve put things into place so I’ll be able to spend time recuperating and adjusting after I give birth,” she told Fit Pregnancy. “I made a big effort over the last two years to build a team that I trust, knowing my end goal was to be a mother. I’ve gotten to the place where I feel confident that I can step away for a minute and everyone will be able to carry on.”
She acknowledged that she wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to do about the inevitable conflict between having a private life and having a business that’s centered around her.
“I’m going to have to figure out how much of motherhood to share on social media,” she said. “Obviously you want to protect your child in every way you can. At the same time, my brand is based on being accessible and sharing the milestones of my life, and I’m so excited about it all. I’ll find a middle ground.”
But for now, while Conrad shared some her most formative years with the world, she and her young family will be taking some time to enjoy the latest chapter of the story on their own.