Kimora Lee Simmons

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St. Louis, Missouri
Birth Sign
St. Louis, Missouri

Kimora Lee Simmons is a former American fashion model who began a highly successful career in her early teens. She rose to prominence after marrying the renowned American entrepreneur, hip-hop record producer, and author Russell Simmons. At the age of 14, Kimora began her modeling career under an exclusive contract with ‘Chanel’, which led to her becoming a well-known visage. Kimora joined her husband’s business, ‘Phat Farm’, a men’s apparel line, after her marriage to the prominent Russell Simmons. Very quickly, with her flair and outspoken style, she was able to increase the brand’s visibility as well as establish and manage the successful brand ‘Baby Phat’, which offers urban-chic apparel and accessories for women and children. Kimora’s high-profile presence quickly expanded to include jewelry, footwear, and cosmetics. Kimora remained in charge of The Baby Phat’s affairs after Kimora and Russel’s separation and subsequent divorce, which did not hinder the group’s success. Kimora has also appeared in minor film roles and starred in her own reality program.

Youth and Early Life

Kimora Lee Simmons was born Kimora Lee Perkins in St. Louis, Missouri on May 4, 1975, to parents Joanne “Kyoko” Perkins and Vernon Whitlock Jr. Her mother was a Korean-born Japanese woman who was adopted by a U.S. serviceman during the Korean War, while her father, an African-American man named Vernon Whitlock Jr., served in various capacities, including as a Federal marshal, an investigator for the ‘Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,’ a bail bondsman, and a barber in St. Louis.

Kimora grew up in Florissant, a lower-middle-class suburb in northern St. Louis where life was quite difficult. She was the persistent target of teasing and bullying at Lutheran North High School, particularly because of her height and her mixed ancestry. Kimora was already 5 feet 10 inches tall when she turned ten years old.

Kimora’s father was apprehended for drug dealing while she was still in school and sentenced to 24 years in prison after he refused to turn informant in exchange for probation. While he was released from prison after serving three years, his marriage ended, and Kimora was reared by her mother.

To give her the confidence and poise to manage her height, Kimora’s mother enrolled her in modeling school when she was 11 years old. When Kimora was competing in a Kansas City model search competition a couple of years later, Marie-Christine Kollock of the prestigious Paris modeling agency ‘Glamour’ discovered her.

At the tender age of 14, she arrived in Paris and was immediately recognized by Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who signed her to an exclusive contract with the renowned fashion house. Kimora closed the show for Karl Lagerfeld’s haute couture collection in 1989, costumed extravagantly as a child bride. In an interview with ‘People Weekly’, Kimora stated, “Everything that people thought was weird about me before is now good.”

Kimora caused quite a stir in the fashion world, and after a couple of seasons working with Karl Lagerfeld, she became a very successful model. During this period of euphoric success, she developed a taste for expensive luxury items, and by the time she was 15, she had spent the majority of her modest income on designer handbags while wearing a ‘Rolex’ wristwatch and driving a ‘BMW’ convertible despite her mother’s cautions.

To her credit, Kimora continued to commute between Paris and St. Louis and, with the aid of an academic tutor, graduated on time from Lutheran North High School in St. Louis.

Kimora Simmons’s Career

She quickly walked the runway for some of the top fashion designers of the day, including Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro, and Valentino, after making a sensational debut. The prominent fashion magazine ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ featured Kimora on the covers of its Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia editions.

In 1993, she appeared in her first film, a romantic comedy titled “For Love or Money” starring Michael J. Fox.
In 1999, the year following her marriage to Russell Simmons, owner of the ‘Phat Farm clothing line, she introduced ‘Baby Phat’, a fashion label that she intended to become an aspirational brand. She transformed the label from simple infant T-shirts to an entire line of urban-chic womenswear with her passion.

After the ‘Kellwood Company’ purchased ‘Phat Farm’ and ‘Baby Phat’ from Russell Simmons in January 2004 for $140 million, it appointed Kimora, the then-creative director of ‘Baby Phat,’ as president and creative director of ‘Phat Fashions’.

From 2002 to 2006, she appeared in supporting roles in films such as Brown Sugar, Beauty Shop, Rebound, and Waist Deep. In 2003, she was a judge on the American reality television program ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and appeared in the music video ‘Change Clothes,’ which peaked at #10 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ in December of that year.

Simmons’s self-help book ‘Fabulosity: What It Is and How to Get It’ was published by ‘HarperEntertainment’ in February 2006. In the autumn of 2007, she introduced the luxury sportswear line KLS. Simmons portrayed herself in ‘Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane,’ a Style Network reality program that premiered on August 5, 2007, and ran until 2011 with great success.

She resigned from ‘Baby Phat’ and left the ‘Kellwood Company’ on September 1, 2010. Kimora intended to devote herself to revitalizing the ‘KLS’ collection and launching ‘Kouture’ by ‘Kimora Brands’. With the introduction of a new brand, she intended to sell fashionable clothing for less than $40 at ‘Macy’s. On September 14, 2011, she announced on her website that she was the president and creative director of ‘JustFab’, a personalized purchasing website. However, she parted ways with the corporation in May 2015.

Kimora reprised her role as herself in ‘Kimora: House of Fab,’ an American reality television series airing on ‘Style Network’. The program chronicling the daily activities at ‘JustFab’ made its debut on January 23, 2013.
In June 2015, Kimora reintroduced the ‘KLS’ collection, this time as a couture label, with the opening of the first boutique in Beverley Hills. In 2016, the line also became available at the ‘Aventura Mall Bloomingdale’s.

Awards & Achievements

Kimora received a ‘Tony Award’ in 2003 as the executive producer of the critically acclaimed series ‘Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam’. In 2008, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University presented her with the Susan Block Silver Ripper Award.

Personal History and Legacy

Kimora Lee Simmons and Russell Simmons first encountered in New York City during ‘Fashion Week’ in November 1992. At the impressionable age of 17, she was carried off her feet by Russell’s lavish attention, and they were married on December 20, 1998. The couple divorced in January 2009 after separating in March 2006.

Kimora began courting the model and actor Djimon Hounsou in March 2007, and the following year she participated in a traditional Benin commitment ceremony. However, the couple never legally wed in America and separated in November 2012.

Kimora confirmed in February 2014 that she had been married to Tim Leissner, a former ‘Goldman Sachs financier who was barred from participating in the securities market by American market regulators for failing to provide work-related documents.

Kimora had two daughters with Russell Simmons, Ming (born January 21, 2000) and Aoki (born August 16, 2002), and a son with Djimon Hounsou, Kenzo (born May 2009). In April 2015, she gave birth to a son named Wolfe with Tim Leissner.

Kimora Lee Simmons is an active and generous benefactor. She established the ‘Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship Fund’ to provide financial assistance to deserving students at her alma mater in St. Louis. She also actively supports a number of juvenile advocacy organizations, including ‘Keep a Child Alive’, ‘The G&P Foundation’, ‘Amfar’, and ‘The Hetrick-Martin Institute’.

In addition, she serves on the board of ‘Rush Philanthropic’. Simmons was presented with the key to the city of St. Louis by the mayor, who also proclaimed that March 18, 2008, would be celebrated as “Kimora Day” in recognition of Simmons’ contributions to society.

Estimated Net Worth

Kimora Lee Simmons is a model, author, and fashion entrepreneur with a $200 million net worth. She first gained notoriety as the wife of hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons. They separated in 2009.