Kimora Lee Simmons on her career, modeling and motherhood

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A photo of Kimora Lee Simmons circa 2004 recently circulated on social media. She wears a CHANEL jacket and designer sunglasses. Her fingers are adorned with diamonds, as are her ankles and ears, and a heart-shaped diamond pendant shines as she raises a crystal glass to the camera. His bare feet, and soaked in a bucket of champagne. “Kimora Lee Simmons having a champagne pedicure,” reads photo caption on Getty. You too can download the image … for $ 500.

Since signing an exclusive contract with the house of CHANEL as a six-foot teenager, Kimora Lee Simmons’ name has become synonymous with excess. It’s an identifier that is probably at odds with her own sense of self, which she articulates as “dorky Dorothy from Kansas”. Throughout his career, Simmons’ fish-out-of-the-water mentality has stubbornly resisted his regularly fleshed out resume. Even though she was babysat by Naomi Campbell, booked jobs at Dior, or founded a fashion brand beloved by Britney Spears, she was always just Kimora Lee: the daughter of St. Louis.

Now, after buying out her soon to be relaunched Baby Phat brand, graduating from business school, producing a Broadway show (she won a Tony), writing a critically acclaimed manual of living, airing a documentary series of Seven seasons, Kimora Lee Simmons has again merged into the fast lane and en route to Oz. Below, the Missourian breaks down super-modeling, mogul, and motherhood – oh, and spoiler alert: she deserved the champagne showers.

Photo: Getty

Starting early here, but growing up multiethnic in 1980s Missouri must have been a very specific experience:

“Absolutely! I used to tell people that Mariah Carey was an exotic mix when I was riding. Nowadays the world is a melting pot, but back then I was in the forefront and in. a landlocked area. I had to get out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mother had me take modeling lessons to have more confidence in me and a better posture: I was 1, 80 meters and I couldn’t stand up. I felt like the ugliest duck in the world. I took a variety of workshops and people said, “If you want to try this modeling thing, you can. found myself at a modeling conference in the Midwest and was discovered by the Marilyn Gaultier agency, which took me to Paris. ”

Back then, was modeling synonymous with beauty from your perspective at the time?

“Over time I felt beautiful, but then I felt like a strange thing. I saw myself as a United Colors of Benetton campaign, I wasn’t Cindy Crawford, the ‘All-American girl’ apple pie . Paris, and landed the gig at CHANEL, which was like a cabin maid. I tried on the clothes. It led me to the parade and eventually I was the “bride”, which was the coveted position. I was taken care of by Karl and Naomi Campbell, and it was my debut at 13. ”

When you say that you were “treated”, what did that mean at the time?

“I was a dozen dollar coat rack, but because I was a kid. The girls we knew as ‘super models’ would pass a bottle around backstage and that bottle wouldn’t come to me. Andre. Leon Talley did for sure that flask didn’t come to me. I did my homework every day under the racks, I wore leggings and converse everyday because that’s what I could afford . I was washing my hair every day, licking my hair in a bun. And then it was Karl who said: ‘This is Naomi, she is there too without her mother, and you are leaving together.’ She would have been in her late teens. ”

Were you aware of the extent of the work at the time? Were you under pressure to maintain your measurements?

“I don’t think I understood. I’ve seen girls who’ve been through a lot. I’ve been in model apartments and seen girls eating baby food or putting orange juice on it. sponges and trying to lower the sponge to soak up the belly. Chewable chocolate laxatives that would make their bowels bleed. I’ve seen people take so much cocaine that they could put a handkerchief on one side of them. their nose and it came out the other side It was never me, I never have a pounding heart, which is probably a good thing because maybe I would have taken that route. But I watched that shit tear people apart. I feel like a survivor. “

Kimora Lee Simmons

Photo: Getty

How did you not take this path?

“I think because it was weird for me! I’m from the Midwest, I ate burgers and fries and a milkshake. There was no one who was even 16 or 17, Naomi is next most old. I saw a lot of stuff. It was another time, the fashion was rock’n’roll. There were top models, rockers. ”

There had been Gia and Janice, but it seems that the explosion or the genesis of the “top model” did not take place until your time:

“I would say there was Linda and Cindy, Christie, Naomi who were the models and me and everyone was a High model. They would have been in my twenties, I was just a baby. ”

How do you think the model’s celebration impacted fashion?

“I think it was a seismic change. They weren’t just divas, they were timeless classics. It took something insider and became a lot more public. It made it a bit less. special, because suddenly there were so many more eyes on you. ”

Baby Phat is such a fascinating case study, because while everyone figured out how to turn their fame into a successful business now, it seemed very difficult for your generation of talent to get out of their way:

“You couldn’t get out of your mold. No one has turned anything into anything else in business terms. Very few have made that leap into the business world, and to date, many classics don’t. started when they were 50 years old. “

Kimora Lee Simmons

Photo: Getty

Where did you find the confidence?

“I think a lot of it came from fear. When it came to being a good mother and being gracious in divorce or whatever, it came from this fear of not raising assholes. afraid of not succeeding, or that my fate was in someone else’s hands based on my beauty, that was weird to me. As if something happened and overnight you weren’t the “hot” girl? Back then, the fear was that everything wouldn’t be all right, so what was the next thing for me? Turn what I had learned in fashion into something else. ”

Were you taken seriously at the time?

“Well, being the female counterpart of Phat Farm, Russell’s brand, whom I married and had my daughters with, then divorced her ass, I had a voice in a room and a lot of experience. I was floating between fashion and hip hop and created a lifestyle that became a brand. It spoke to girls all over the world. Not everyone was born with it. a silver spoon in my mouth, so it resonated. There weren’t any models that really did that, and it was like a sink or swim. Then it became this crossover of big magazines, fashion, celebrities, badass women. I felt on the cusp of all these things. ”

How quickly the brand’s celebrity embrace seemed so unique. You had found this intersection of luxury and streetwear and there were so many A-mentions:

“Exactly! We got to a time where we were starting to celebrate each other. And we were really friends in a fashion community. It sure was. [the inception] of what’s cool today. But I remember Baby Phat dressed Madonna for her tour, Britney Spears, Destiny’s Child. When Cam’ron had pink fur, he wore a Baby Phat phone. Everyone supported. We were the original hot girls! ”

How much do you attribute that to the designs, compared to your cache and what you’ve brought to the brand?

“It was totally what I brought to it, I think I can say it. I had some amazing design teams, but I put my blood, sweat, tears, it was genuine and a real vibe. They were my peers, I grew up among them. I organized a lifestyle that was the American dream, and what that meant to a girl like me. And I did. “

Kimora Lee Simmons

Photo: Getty

Now it must seem a lot easier to ‘do it’: anyone can use their social capital to build a brand:

“‘Easier’ comes to mind, but ‘be careful. ” too. There are traps to jump so quickly. ”

How did you navigate this huge success at the time? Seemed like a lot to follow or a lot to lose?

“There is always increasing pressure when it comes to business, it becomes a lot to lose. It became a movement, and I was determined to become a tycoon, as well as a mom and a tycoon. now as a businesswoman and entrepreneur, turning tragedy into triumph, I have always been at the forefront. ”

Is the resurgence of the year 2000 surreal for you?

“We thought we were so edgy and sexy with our dropped jeans and our hips sticking out. It doesn’t surprise me that girls look to you in the early 2000s for a bit of color and flavor. Ming is pulling out all of them. those pictures of me in those boots and say, ‘Where are they, mom? You’re holding me tight.’ ”

How does it feel to raise girls in the digital age?

“It was hard to navigate. Things got hypercritical. There’s such a bloated feeling of bullshit, and it’s so easy to get out of hand. It’s like, do you want to create a whole different character. and maintain that? That’s a lot to live with. It’s like focusing on being the girl backstage that you want people to think you’re in front of the camera for. I’ve always been grateful to you. ‘just be myself and not have to follow a false version of myself. ”

How do you measure success now?

“I judge success in terms of impact and legacy. So when people tell me I inspired them to come out of an abusive relationship, or start a business, or be a single mom, for me, that is success. The more you realize your passion and are true to your authentic self, the more the rewards will come – those riches will be yours. ”

Top photo: Courtesy of Instagram /@kimoraleesimmons

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