Kimora Lee Simmons
Kimora Lee Simmons Leissner (née Perkins; born May 4, 1975), known professionally as Kimora Lee Simmons, is a leading businesswoman, venture investor, entrepreneur, fashion designer, TV personality, author, TONY winner, philanthropist and model.
Kimora Lee Simmons
May 4, 1975
(m. 1998; div. 2009)
|Partner(s)||Djimon Hounsou (2007–2012)|
|Height||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|Hair color||Dark brown|
Kimora Lee Perkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri and spent her early life in the northern St. Louis suburb of Florissant, Missouri. Kimora was born a child of mixed race, from a blended African American, Korean and Japanese heritage. Nearly 6 feet tall by age 10, she was the target of schoolyard bullying and teasing because of her height.
Kimora didn’t find immediate confidence and felt ‘different’. To boost her confidence because of her height, Kimora’s mother enrolled her in a modeling class when she was eleven years old. Her life would radically change as she stepped into the spotlight, having been quickly discovered and signed as one of the first mixed race models.
Lagerfeld changed Kimora’s life when he plucked a multi-ethnic girl who had not yet found her confidence from obscurity and thrust her to the world via an exclusive contract with Chanel.
As a muse for Karl Lagerfeld, Kimora helped in inspire his creative vision and a call for racial inclusivity, and paved the way for other mixed race models in the fashion world. She became, as Karl Lagerfeld crowned her, the “Face of the 21st Century.”
“Karl chose to put a mixed race model on a Parisian runway before anyone else. By his example, I learned how to stand tall and claim my destiny – to dream bigger than I ever thought possible and command those dreams into reality,” Kimora remembers. She quickly gained attention in the fashion world when she closed Lagerfeld's haute couture show in 1989 as the “bride” – the concluding bridal look signature to every Chanel show under Lagerfeld’s tenure.
Kimora soon walked the fashion runways for designers including Fendi, Valentino, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Kenzo, Anna Sui, Geoffrey Beene and Yves Saint Laurent. She has been featured on the covers and international pages of VOGUE, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE and of Asian titles of major fashion magazines including Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.
Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons and Phat Fashions
In 1998, Kimora’s former husband, music mogul and entrepreneur, Russell Simmons, was at the helm of Phat Farm, a burgeoning urban menswear brand. Kimora instantly recognized a formidable opportunity to create a parallel women’s brand, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, under the umbrella of Phat Fashions.
Upon being presented a Phat Farm t-shirt made for the female audience, Kimora immediately said, 'I would never wear this,'" she recalls. "It was very athletic and basic, scaled-down pieces of what a guy would wear." So Ms. Simmons stepped up as Baby Phat's designer, creating a collection she would wear: sexy jeans and tops adorned with a curvy cat logo inspired by her pet cat, Max.
With the launch of Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons in 1999, Kimora found her calling not only as a model, but as a designer and a creative director. "Manicures, sleeping all day—it wasn't fulfilling," she told VIBE Magazine. With her newfound entrepreneurial passion, Kimora propelled Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons to be the premier urban lifestyle brand of its generation.
In 2000, Kimora was appointed President and Creative Director of her namesake Baby Phat brand. In 2001, Baby Phat reported gross revenue earnings of $30 million, and by 2002 Phat Farm and Baby Phat had made a combined profit of $265 million. By 2003, Baby Phat's profitability had increased by 30% from the prior year.
In 2004, the Kellwood Company purchased Phat Fashions – then consisting of four brands: Phat Fashions, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, Baby Phat Girlz and Phat Farm Boys - for $140 million. Kimora stayed on as President and Creative Director of Baby Phat, expanding the label into an all-encompassing lifestyle brand with its own denim, accessories, jewelry and swimwear, fragrance and lingerie categories. She grew the business into a billion dollar brand – making it the most profitable enterprise beneath the Phat Fashions umbrella.
Later that year, the label expanded to selling a custom Motorola i833 mobile phone sold exclusively at Bloomingdale's. In the same year Simmons also partnered with Vida Shoes International, Inc. to create a new shoe line for Baby Phat to include stilettos, wedges, boots and toddler shoes.
In 2006 Kimora was named President of parent company Phat Fashions, solidifying her the first African American woman to lead a billion dollar brand. In 2007, Phat fashions partnered with Silver Goose/Kidstreet to create an infant and toddler accessory line.
In 2008 the Kellwood Company sold a majority stake in Phat Fashions to Sun Capital Partners, after which Kimora successfully divested from Phat Fashions in 2010.
Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons was referred to by the New York Daily News as the #1 most sought after ticket during New York Fashion Week during the mid aughts. The top models of the decade walked the runway in front of the biggest stars in the hip hop and pop worlds.
Baby Phat celebrity fans included Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian, Christina Millian, Britney Spears, Missy Elliot and Monica (many of whom sat front row during her Fashion Week performances or attended the highly sought-after after parties.
Alek Wek and Devon Aoki modeled, as well as Carmen Kass and Eva Herzigova. Lil Kim walked the runway. Cam’ron wore all pink in the front row. Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons was the first-ever brand to host its Fashion Week show at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and the first-ever brand to livecast its Fashion Week show to the masses via a Jumbotron in Times Square – thus becoming one of the first-ever brands to give the public a peek at New York’s elusive Fashion Week.
Explaining her choice of models on the Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons runway: “It's very deliberate," she says. "It includes people who are sometimes forgotten but are great models - they have fierce walks and bodies, strong girls, but they might sometimes be a size bigger than the other one who was a size zero. They have more 'hip,' more color, more bang to their personality. It's what I represent culturally in society: all colors, all women, all shapes and sizes."
Kimora made her finale appearance at the end of each show with her two young daughters, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee, in tow - proving without a word to her audience that a woman can be both a mother and a mogul at the same time.
Baby Phat is largely responsible for ushering in a new category of urban lifestyle apparel and accessories designed for women of color – a category that was previously nonexistent. Kimora’s daughters (with Russell Simmons), Ming Lee and Aoki Lee, walked the runway close with their mother at the end of each New York Fashion Week appearance. Kimora told Refinery29: “Of course having my babies on the runway with me is still #1 for me as a mother. But I also really loved our front rows. The celeb and musician friends that supported the brand also inspired it – really innovative women who pushed the world forward to embrace the urban lifestyle when many in the business and in society at large, did not have that vision or foresight. This was a movement. People forget that.”
Entrepreneurship & eponymous collections
In 2005, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons collaborated with Coty Inc. to launch its first-ever fragrance, Baby Phat Goddess which was carried by department stores including Sears and Macy’s. Baby Phat Goddess was then joined by Golden Goddess, Seductive Goddess, Baby Phat Fabulosity, Luv Me and Baby Phat Dare Me. After Kimora’s exit as President of Phat Fashions in 2010, she retained ownership of all licensing rights for her fragrance and cosmetics collection.
Simmons created the Simmons Jewelry Company to market jewelry items under the Phat Farm and Baby Phat labels, which resulted in Simmons's "Diamond Diva" line of jewelry. She then partnered with pop culture icon, Hello Kitty owned by Sanrio Ltd., in 2006 to launch “Kimora Lee Simmons for Hello Kitty” in Neiman Marcus. The Hello Kitty collection by Kimora Lee was expanded in 2008 with another collection of jewelry and watches being released in conjunction with the Zales Corporation.
Fabulosity designed by Kimora Lee Simmons
Renowned for pioneering the introduction of glamour and feminine appeal to the urban brand category, Kimora Lee Simmons created a line for JCPenney in 2008, which combined the two worlds she knows best -- high fashion and hip hop. Fabulosity was merchandised at JCPenney as an urban lifestyle offering in Juniors with a complete sportswear line that featured tees, knit tops and sweaters, jeans, skirts and dresses, as well as hoodies, jackets and outerwear.
KLS Fashion Collection and Kouture by Kimora
In 2010 Kimora launched her contemporary KLS fashion collection, which retailed to department stores like Macy’s. In tandem, the designer and creative director launched Kouture by Kimora, a brand of under $40 clothes exclusively for Macy’s. "I wanted to do something that spoke to a different market for Macy's. It sits in a different section. I wanted this to be crossover. I wanted this to be colorless and really about fashion. And it's what I call recession-proof. It's really important to say that,” said Simmons.
In 2011, Kimora Lee Simmons designed a new Rushcard, adorned in a purple zebra print with pink diamonds. The RushCard offers the more than 60 million Americans without access to a traditional banking relationship an array of basic financial services via the Prepaid Visa RushCard. Benefits of the program include direct deposit, the ability to withdraw funds at more than 850,000 ATMs globally, the ability to use the card wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, and a suite of health products to help those underserved by the insurance industry.
Kimora Lee Simmons launched her own anti-aging skincare line with Swiss skincare company Makari de Suisse in 2011. The anti-aging line was geared toward multi-ethnic women and was comprised of plumpers and products to keep moisture in the skin.
In 2012 Kimora Lee Simmons announced a new position as President and Creative Director for Just Fab, a personalized shopping website which she ran until 2015. Kimora skyrocketed JustFab into the fashion subscription stratosphere. With Kimora Lee Simmons’s direction, JustFab offered individualized boutiques to monthly subscribers who had completed an online fashion assessment. JustFab and Kimora Lee Simmons made it easy for anyone to be fashionable by creating entire on-trend looks, which gave women of all fashion tastes the ability to affordably make their home closet their dream closet.
KIMORA LEE SIMMONS High Fashion Collection
Immediately following, Kimora launched her new, evolved KIMORA LEE SIMMONS women’s designer line, featuring Italian fabrics and handmade embellishments. This marked the first time Kimora entered the luxury American designer category. The KIMORA LEE SIMMONS collection was picked up by Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor, Farfetch and a network of boutiques nationwide.
Entrepreneurship & investment portfolio
Simultaneously, Kimora instituted her venture portfolio of new and innovative businesses in the fields of (i) fashion (KLS and Baby Phat clothing), entertainment (All Def Media and Screenbid), (ii) technology (Sentient Technologies, Contra Software and Friendsurance), (iii) sports (Inter Milan and the Association of Volleyball Professionals) as well as (iv) consumer goods including Codage, an advanced technical skin care line in France, Pureform Global, the first manufacturer of non-cannabis, non-hemp, all natural CBD products, and Celisus, a “clean energy” negative calorie drink acquired in 2015. In Spring 2019 she co-launched Pellequr, a Beverly Hills spa.
Re-acquisition of Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons
On International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2019, Kimora delivered the keynote address at the launch of the “She Innovates” initiative led by the UN Women and the Gender Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC). There, and to Bloomberg News, she officially leaked the news with a business announcement of her own – the reacquisition and forthcoming return of her ultra-iconic streetwear brand, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons.
The brand will re-emerge in the Summer 2019 season with an exciting collaboration and then debut a signature collection during Fall 2019. Kimora said to WWD: “The relaunch of Baby Phat will be comprised of a “mainstream sportswear” collection for millennials targeted to the mid-tier retail level.
It’s perfect timing for this,” Kimora continued to WWD “Over the past several years, we realized (Baby Phat) resonates with people and lives deep in their souls.” And young people like her 16- and 19-year-olds (Ming Lee and Aoki Lee) have a “need for messaging” that is similar to what Baby Phat represented in its prime, and still can today.
Kimora has long been passionate about supporting AIDS research via amfAR (the American Foundations for AIDS Research). Kimora attended Lionel Richie’s performance to benefit amfAR at Cipriani Wall Street in April 2006 in NYC, and then the 'Cinema Against AIDS 2006', the annual event in aid of amfAR at Le Moulin de Mougins during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival in May 2006.
In addition, Kimora is instrumental at the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, serving on the Board of Directors and as the host of the 2011 Annual ‘Art for Life’ Fundraiser in the Hamptons. This event raised money for the RUSH Philanthropic charity that supports arts programs for inner city kids. Grammy-winning singer Jennifer Hudson performed before a star-studded audience filled with famous faces, including Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, Star Jones, and LaLa Anthony. Hip hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari also kept guests entertained throughout the evening.
Wearing nothing but a pair of angel wings and holding her dog, Zoe, Kimora teamed up with PETA for a campaign urging people to ‘be an angel for dogs’. “You cannot just chain up an animal. The chains are heavy, it’s cruel,” Kimora said. “Dogs need to run and play.” She has also supported the organization in protests to ban fur.
Hetrick Martin Institute – Harvey Milk School
Since 2009 Kimora Lee Simmons has hosted the annual red carpet gala celebration supporting Hetrick-Martin and its tribute to gay rights activist, Harvey Milk. According to its mission statement, HMI, home of New York's Harvey Milk High School, "believes all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential. Hetrick-Martin creates this environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth between the ages of 12 and 21 and their families."
Kimora is also a supporter of The G&P Foundation and Keep a Child Alive.
The Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship Fund
Kimora has a long history of philanthropy establishing and sponsoring programs at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC and the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in LA. Kimora personally donated one million dollars of her own money to students pursuing careers in fashion. Speaking to FIT students in 2014, Kimora said, “I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, for those of you that may not know, and growing up in St. Louis, the fashion industry always felt so far away, like millions of miles away,” she said. “I always knew that I wanted to be a part of it, but I never really imagined how to make that happen for myself, and I imagine that’s the case for maybe a lot of you.”
Named Global Ambassador for non-profit group ‘The Unmentionables’ in 2016, Kimora and her family have done extensive work to support refugees and in-crisis migrant women and children fleeing violence and natural disasters. Kimora has worked to provide refugees protection from exploitation and trafficking, utilizing her business acumen and passion for empowering others while becoming a powerful voice for human rights.
Kimora and her family traveled to Texas to help with organization’s relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey in Summer 2017. She also has helped to fund the distribution of reusable hygienic products and feminine supplies. In Summer 2018, Simmons-Leissner traveled with her family to Greece to contribute efforts to migrant and refugee families, providing training, supplies and education to the refugee community as they entered Europe.
In 2018 Kimora also stepped onto the stage of The Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC) in partnership with UN Women to drive industry wide change and advance women and girls in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. She currently serves as a Global Innovator for Change as an active supporter for gender equality in the workplace and as addressed the UN Women and GICC groups for the launch of its Gender Innovation Principles in September 2018 and of its “She Innovates” call to action on International Women’s Day in March 2019. The launch of the GICC’s Gender Innovation Principles are a hallmark element of the impactful work this group is doing to even out the playing field and eliminate gender bias in the workplace. The ‘She Innovates’ Global Program (reword) by UN Women and the Global Innovation Coalition for Change. The program helps female innovators and entrepreneurs to defy gender barriers and bring women-centered solutions to life. The program is composed of several elements including events and meet ups, the formation of local chapters, mentoring programs and ‘She Innovates’ labs.
Freedom Shield Foundation
Kimora and her family pledged their support to Freedom Shield Foundation in 2019, and organization which rescue thousands of women and children from human trafficking and provide advanced trauma care to the survivors whom we rescue. They also provide training and resources to those involved in the fight against trafficking both nationally and internationally.
Kimora Lee Perkins married Russell Simmons in December 1998. They have two daughters, Ming Lee Simmons (born January 2000) and Aoki Lee Simmons (born August 2002). The couple separated in 2006 and later divorced.
Kimora married Academy Award nominated actor and former model, Dijmon Hounsou in the summer of 2008. In May 2009, Simmons gave birth to their son Kenzo Lee Hounsou. They separated in 2012.
Kimora went back to school to complete her Business Degree in 2017-2018, and announced her graduation from the University of Hartford in June 2018 – the same week as her eldest daughter, Ming Lee, graduated from high school. Mother and daughter celebrated their achievement together.
In 1998 Kimora took on her first TV personality role, hosting ‘One World Music Beat’. In 2004 she hosted the syndicated talkshow, ‘Life and Style,’ for Sony Pictures Television, which filmed in front of a live studio audience. Past hosts include Tracee Ellis Ross, Gisele Bündchen, Marcia Cross and more. Kimora also took part in several specials for VH1 titled ‘Uncut New York Fashion Week’ and ‘Party Fabulous.’
In 2003 Kimora served as a judge on Season 1 of America’s Next Top Model, alongside Tyra Banks, and also judged the franchise’s ‘Germany’s Next Top Model’ as well.
Showcasing Kimora’s life as a businesswoman who balances her family life, she was the focal star of The Style Network’s top-rated show “Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane,” which also syndicated on E! Television Network and viewed in more than 200 global territories.
This first-of-its-kind reality show debuted in 2007 and lasted for seven seasons with tremendous popularity. Kimora herself served as Producer for 4 episodes in 2007 and then as Executive Producer for another 10 episodes between 2009-2010.
“Kimora: House of Fab” debuted in 2013 in tandem with Kimora’s tenure at JustFab. She also served as Executive Producer for each episode which aired on the Style Network.
Her 2006 book “Fabulosity: What It Is and How to Get It” was published by Harper Entertainment and garnered strong reviews as a lifestyle manual from such publications as the Washington Post and Boston Globe.
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