Also Credited As:Kimora Lee, Kimora Lee Perkins
|Kimora Lee Perkins on May 4, 1975 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA|
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Kimora Lee Perkins was born on May 4, 1975 in St. Louis, MO to an African-American father and a Korean-born Japanese mother. Her father, Vernon Whitlock, Jr., was the first black deputy Federal Marshal in St. Louis, while her mother, Kyoko Perkins, worked as a Social Security administrator. Due to her height and mixed ancestry, some of her schoolmates teased her and even cruelly nicknamed her "Chinky giraffe." Her mother, however, saw a potential in her daughter and enrolled her in a modeling class at age 11. Simmons was discovered two years later by a fashion agent who sent her to Paris. When she was 14, a fresh-faced Simmons received an exclusive modeling contract with fashion house Chanel. As one of Karl Lagerfeld's four muses - nicknamed "the Karlettes" by Women's Wear Daily - Simmons was handpicked by the designer himself to close his 1989 couture show. Among the models Simmons met during that time was Tyra Banks, who also happened to be her roommate in Paris. Banks later served as the maid of honor at Simmons' wedding to Def Jam Records founder and fashion mogul Russell Simmons.
The couple first met in the early 1990s when Russell spotted then-17-year-old Kimora walking the runway during New York Fashion Week. They married on the Caribbean island of St. Bart's in 1998, with his brother and hip-hop legend Reverend Run (of Run-DMC) officiating the ceremony. The following year, Russell created the Baby Phat line, an offshoot of his successful Phat Farm line geared towards a multiethnic female audience. His confident new wife took creative control of Baby Phat and turned it into its own multimillion dollar fashion and lifestyle brand that included denim, handbags, accessories, and later children's apparel. Baby Phat catered to an urban audience with its mixture of high fashion with casual street wear. While running her business alongside her husband, Simmons also raised their two daughters Ming Lee (born 2000) and Aoki Lee (born 2002).The family owned a mansion in East Hampton, NY and lived on an expansive property in Saddle River, NJ that housed artwork by Warhol and Basquiat, and Simmons' personal collection of Louis Vuitton luggage. Simmons made no apologies for her flashy and expensive way of life, and often credited hard work and dedication for living like royalty. Yet even success could not prevent the demise of Simmons' marriage. She and Russell separated in 2004, but remained close friends for the sake of their daughters.
That same year, Russell sold Phat Farm to Kellwood Company and stepped down as CEO. Kellwood named Simmons President and Creative Director of Phat Fashions, which meant overseeing the entire fashion and lifestyle empire. To document her life as mogul and a mother, Simmons signed on to star on her own Style reality series "Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane." Cameras followed her as she tried to balance running a company with taking care of her two daughters. The series also showed a softer side to the "Glamazon" businesswoman, especially when she was around her daughters Ming and Aoki. On the show, Simmons coined the term "Fabulosity" for her luxurious and carefree lifestyle, but also used it to describe how her brand made women look and feel their best. In addition to her business ventures, Simmons also dabbled in acting, landing small parts in the comedies "For Love or Money" (1993) and "Beauty Shop" (2005), and published a self-help book titled Fabulosity: What it is and How to Get it (2006). While her divorce with Russell was not finalized until January 2009, Simmons began dating Academy Award-nominated actor Djimon Honsou two years prior. The couple had a son together, Kenzo Lee Honsou (born 2009). In 2010, Simmons parted ways with Kellwood and gave up control of her passion project Baby Phat, but was named Creative Director and President of personal shopping website JustFab.com the following year.
By Candy Cuenco