Model, fashion icon. Born Kimora Lee Perkins on May 4, 1975, in St. Louis, Missouri. Simmons was born to an African-American father, Vernon Whitlock, Jr., and Japanese mother Joanne Perkins. At the age of 11, Kimora Lee’s mother enrolled her in a modeling class. Two years later, Kimora was awarded an exclusive modeling contract from Chanel. Newly 14, the teen moved to Paris to work under the famous Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld.
After closing one of Karl Lagerfeld’s haute couture shows as a child bride, Kimora Lee became a sensation within in the industry. Soon after, she forged a close friendship with fellow Chanel model Tyra Banks, and became a self-proclaimed muse of Lagerfeld. Kimora, along with three other models, were dubbed “the four Karlettes.”
At the age of 17, Kimora Lee met 35-year-old Russell Simmons after a runway show during New York Fashion Week. After their meeting, he sent her a large bouquet of flowers. The couple started dating on-again-off-again for several years. In 1998, however, love won out and Kimora Lee and Russell Simmons married at St. Bart’s. The ceremony was performed by Russell’s brother Joey “Rev Run” Simmons of Run-D.M.C. The reception was held on a 190-foot yacht.
Kimora Lee Simmons’ fashion design career started shortly after marrying Russell. Her husband had begun creating baby clothing from his Phat Farm clothing line. Kimora Lee then took the project on herself, and Baby Phat was created in 1999. She was named creative director and president of the line, taking it from baby t-shirts to a full line of urban women’s wear. In January of 2004, Kimora Lee and Russell Simmons sold the apparel and licensing of the Baby Phat and Phat Farm brands to Kellwood Company for $140 million. As a result of the sale, the couple started expanding the line, including the Simmons Jewelry Company, which included the “Diamond Diva” line. That same year, Kimora Lee and her husband signed a deal with Coty, Inc. to create a line of women’s fragrances under the Kimora Lee Simmons brand. The couple also signed with Vida Shoes International to create a line of women’s shoes under the Baby Phat line. In 2007, Kimora Lee Simmons was promoted by Kellwood to President and Creative Director of Phat Fashions, which covered both Baby Phat and Phat Farm.
Kimora Lee expanded her talents to television in 2003, when she earned a Tony Award for working as executive producer of the Russell Simmons Presents: Def Poetry Jam. Simmons has also been a judge for many model and fashion-based television programs, including America’s Next Top Model and MTV’s Fashionably Loud. Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane is a reality show that takes a look into the life of Kimora Lee Simmons that began in 2007 and is shown on the E! Channel and Style Network. She has also appeared in many movies, including The Big Tease in 1999, Beauty Shop in 2005 and Waist Deep in 2006. Kimora Lee also published her first book in 2006, entitled Fabulosity: What it is and how to get it.
In 2000, Kimora Lee and Russell had their first child, a daughter named Ming Lee Simmons. Two years later they had a second daughter, Aoki Lee Simmons. Both girls model for the Baby Phat Kids Collection. Kimora Lee and Russell divorced in 2008. The couple claims they had actually split some time before that, but continued to work together. The divorce was finalized in January of 2009. Simmons then began dating model and actor Djimon Hounsou. The couple has one child, named Kenzou Lee Hounsou.