Kimora Lee Leissner born May 4, 1975, is an American fashion model and fashion designer. She took over Baby Phat after Russell Simmons and was CEO/creative director through 2010. She had her own reality television shows Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane (2007–2011) and Kimora: House of Fab (2013).
Kimora Lee Perkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Joanne “Kyoko” Perkins, was born in Korea to a Japanese mother and adopted by a U.S. serviceman during the Korean War and raised in the U.S. She later worked as an administrator for Social Security. Kimora’s father is African American. Her father, Vernon Whitlock Jr., worked as a Federal Marshal, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator, a bail bondsman, and later became a barber in St. Louis. He was sentenced to prison when Kimora was in grade school for distribution of narcotics. It was substantiated in the U.S. District Court (Honorable Clyde Cahill) that government agents attempted to recruit Whitlock as an informant in exchange for probation, but he vehemently refused. Consequently, he was refused probation and was taken off his $500,000 bond and was given the 24-year sentence; he was released after five years. Her parents split up and she was raised by her mother.
Growing up in the northern St. Louis suburb of Florissant, Missouri, Kimora was the target of schoolyard bullying and teasing, because of her height (she was 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall by the time she was 10 years old) and mixed ancestry. To give her confidence because of her height, Simmons’s mother enrolled her in a modeling class when she was eleven years old. Two years later she was discovered by Marie-Christine Kollock (a representative for seminal Paris Agency Glamour) at a Model Search in Kansas City (organized by Kay Mitchell) and sent to Paris. Simmons is a graduate of Lutheran North High School in St. Louis, Missouri.
Just after her fourteenth birthday, Perkins was awarded an exclusive modeling contract with Chanel and went to work under the tutelage of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. She quickly gained attention in the fashion world when she closed Lagerfeld’s haute couture show in 1989. “Everything people thought was weird about me before”, Perkins told People Weekly, “was now good”. Perkins soon walked for designers including Fendi, Valentino, Emanuel Ungaro and Yves Saint Laurent. Perkins has been featured on the cover of the German, Indonesian, Singaporean and Malaysian editions of Harper’s Bazaar.
In 2004, Simmons’ then husband Russell Simmons sold his clothing line Phat Farm to Kellwood Company for $140 million. When Russell stepped down as CEO of Phat Fashions LLC in September 2007, Simmons—who was already creative director of Baby Phat (which was a branch off Phat Farm Industries)—was promoted by Kellwood to President and Creative Director of Phat Fashions. It was her goal to turn fashion label Baby Phat, launched in 1999, into an “aspirational lifestyle brand”. Her high-end sportswear line, KLS, launched in fall 2007.
On September 1, 2010, Simmons parted ways with Baby Phat and its management company, Kellwood. The details as to why Simmons was removed as creative director have not been clear; some blog sites claimed it was because Simmons was spending too much money on company pursuits and giving too much pay to herself and her children. After the split, Simmons planned to launch her KLS collection and Kouture by Kimora Brands. She had an exclusive brand coming to Macy’s that would offer stylish clothes for under $40. On September 14, 2011, Simmons announced on her website that she was the new creative director and president of JustFab, a personalized shopping website. She ended her employment with JustFab in May 2015.
In June 2015, Simmons relaunched her KLS label as a high end line, opening its first boutique in Beverly Hills. In 2016, the line began being carried at Bloomingdale’s in the Aventura Mall.
Simmons has appeared in small roles in television and films including Beauty Shop, Brown Sugar, and Waist Deep. She has also appeared in music videos for Ginuwine, Usher and Rich Gang in the 2013 song “Tapout”. In 2003, Simmons appeared as one of the judges on America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 1. She was scheduled to return but later chose not to. She has been a co-host of Sony Television’s syndicated talk show Life & Style. On August 5, 2007, season one of her reality TV show, Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, premiered on Style Network. The show chronicles her daily life and routine as a mother and then-CEO of Phat Fashions.
Simmons wrote a self-help book, Fabulosity: What It Is and How to Get It, that 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 has also launched five perfumes for women: Goddess, Golden Goddess, Seductive Goddess, Baby Phat Fabulosity, Love me, and the last fragrance she put out from her time with Baby Phat, Dare Me.
Simmons sponsored the KLS Rushcard, which included her own line of purple Rushcards.
Simmons, a philanthropist, feels a sense of responsibility to give back to communities because of everyone in her childhood that gave her a chance to prove herself. Charitable work is not something she does for fun, she states specifically: “Whose life have you changed? Who have you helped move forward, grow, and progress?” Simmons 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. The mayor of St. Louis presented Simmons the key to the city and named March 18, 2008 “Kimora Day” in St. Louis.
Lee met Russell Simmons in November 1992 during New York City’s Fashion Week. She was 17 and about to finish high school; he was 35 and a self-admitted ladies’ man. The couple were married by Simmons’s brother, rapper and Pentecostal minister, Joseph “Reverend Run” Simmons” of Run-DMC, on the Caribbean island of St. Bart’s on December 20, 1998. They have two daughters, Ming Lee Simmons (born January 21, 2000) and Aoki Lee Simmons (born August 16, 2002). The couple separated in March 2006. In March 2008, she filed for divorce from Russell Simmons. Their divorce was finalized in January 2009.
In March 2007, Simmons was dating actor and model Djimon Hounsou. In the summer of 2008, Simmons and Hounsou participated in a traditional Benin commitment ceremony. On May 30, 2009, Simmons gave birth to their son, Kenzo Lee Hounsou, meaning “Three” (Kimora’s third child). Simmons and Hounsou, who were never legally married in the United States, announced their separation in November 2012.
In February 2014, Lee confirmed that she is married to former Goldman Sachs banker Tim Leissner, and had been “for a while now”. Leissner, a senior Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker before leaving the firm in the wake of its work with Malaysia’s embattled investment fund, has been barred from the U.S. securities industry for failing to provide documents to a regulator. Simmons gave birth in April 2015 to a baby boy named Wolfe Lee Leissner.
In July 2004, Simmons was arrested and charged with reckless driving, eluding police, driving with a broken brake light, and marijuana possession after a two-mile chase that began near the Saddle River Police Station and ended outside her estate in Saddle River, New Jersey. On August 9, 2005, Simmons pleaded guilty to the reckless driving charge and was placed on six months’ probation.