Kimora Lee Simmons (born Kimora Lee Perkins on May 4, 1975) was a judge on cycle 1.
"I consider myself to be one of the black women in fashion who made it", Kimora says. "But black women don’t look at me like that." "A number of them [black women] probably think Russell should be married to a black woman [rather than Afro-Asian]", says Emil Wilbekin, the editorial director of Vibe magazine.
Simmons was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She is of Japanese and African American descent. Her mother is Joanne Perkins (who was adopted by an American serviceman during the Korean War and renamed Joanne Perkins), who now goes by the Japanese name "Kyoko", which she asserts was her "full blooded Japanese mother's name. Her father is African American Vernon Whitlock Jr., who previously worked as a federal marshal, a social security administrator, and then a barber in St. Louis. He served three years for drug charges while Simmons was in grade school.
Growing up in the north St. Louis suburb of Florissant, Simmons was very self-conscious about being a "geek." Other children called her "chinky giraffe" because of her height and Asian ancestry. By the time she was 10 years old, she was 5-feet 8-inches tall, and became the target of schoolyard taunts and teasing. With no Asian population in her community, she had difficulty fitting in with the mostly black student body who shunned her because of her Asian ancestry. Hoping to boost her confidence, Simmons' mother enrolled her daughter in a modeling class when she was eleven years old. Two years later, at the age of thirteen, she was discovered by Marie-Christine Kollock (a representative for seminal Paris Agency Glamour) at a Model Search in St. Louis (organized by Kay Mitchell) and sent to Paris. Simmons was awarded an exclusive modeling contract with Chanel and just after her thirteenth birthday, to work under the tutelage of famed Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld.
She quickly gained attention in the fashion world when Lagerfeld closed his haute couture show with Simmons, who strutted down the runway decked out as a child bride. "Everything people thought was weird about me before," Simmons told People Weekly, "was now good". By age 14, her stature had grown to a height of six feet, and she became a self-professed muse for Lagerfeld. She and three other Lagerfeld models (Bernadette Jurkowski, Shoshanna Fitzgerald and Olga Sobolewska) were dubbed "the four Karlettes".
Simmons is a graduate of Lutheran High School North in St. Louis, Missouri which she recently visited for a meet and greet and a cosmetic conference.
She has appeared in Ginuwine's video for "In Those Jeans" with model Devon Aoki and Usher's video for "Nice & Slow". Kimora Lee is also a playable character in the fighting game Def Jam: Fight for NY.
She has also appeared in the motion picture Beauty Shop along with Queen Latifah
It is Simmons' goal to fashion Baby Phat, launched in 1999, into an "aspirational lifestyle brand."
She was one of the judges in America's Next Top Model for season one. Simmons has also been a co-host Sony Television's syndicated talk show Life & Style.
A book written by Simmons, Fabulosity: What It Is and How to Get It, was published by HarperEntertainment in February 2006. The book is set to function as a 'lifestyle manual' on everything from spirituality and finances to fashion and beauty.
She established the Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship Fund at her high school alma mater in St. Louis to provide college tuition support for academically successful girls with financial needs and is an active member of youth advocacy organizations including Amfar, The G&P Foundation, Keep a Child Alive, Hetrick-Martin Institute and Rush Philanthropic where she is on the Board of Directors.
In February 2007 Kimora Lee Simmons Barbie doll was launched, created under the direction of Simmons. She has also launched three perfumes for women: Goddess, Golden Goddess and recently, Baby Phat Fabulosity.
On August 5, 2007 her reality TV show premiered on Style Network. Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane chronicles her daily life and routine, along with her relationship with her two daughters Ming Lee and Aoki Lee Simmons. It now re-airs on E! Entertainment Television. Season two aired at 8:00 pm, April 20, 2008 on the Style network.
The mayor of St. Louis gave Simmons the key to the city.
On December 20, 1998, she married Russell Simmons. They have two daughters; Ming Lee (born January 21, 2000) and Aoki Lee (born August 16, 2002). Both Ming Lee and Aoki Lee model for Baby Phat Kids Collection. They lived in the town of Saddle River, New Jersey.
In 2002, rumors surfaced in the New York Post of an affair with Baby Phat model Kisha Batista. In Daniel Peddle's 2005 documentary "The Aggressives" Kisha Batista talks about the rumors and admits to an affair with an unnamed married female celebrity.
In 2004 Russell Simmons sold Phat Farm to Kellwood Company for $140 million. When Russell stepped down as CEO of Phat Fashions LLC in September 2007, Kimora — who was already Creative Director of Baby Phat — was promoted by Kellwood to President and Creative Director of Phat Fashions. Simmons and her husband officially separated in March 2006, saying the couple had split some time before, but still lived together. In Spring 2006 when they announced their separation the two stated that they would continue to work together on Phat Farm and Baby Phat clothing lines. By March 2007, Simmons was dating actor/model Djimon Hounsou in 2007. In March 2008, the New York Post page six reported that Kimora is pregnant with Hounsou's child. Simmons refuted this in People magazine. Later that month, Simmons officially filed for divorce from her husband.