KIMORA Lee Simmons: Living a life of Fabulosity
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
As a fashion icon, trendsetter, super-model and entrepreneur, Kimora Lee Simmons has set a 21st century standard for establishing a global lifestyle brand. First rising to prominence as the glamorous wife of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons (they divorced in 2009; in November, she split from actor Djimon Hounsou, with whom she has a son), Kimora was born in 1975 to an African-American father, Vernon Whitlock Jr., and a Korean-born Japanese mother, Joanne Perkins. Under the umbrella of her then-husband’s Phat Farm fashion empire, Lee Simmons created the Baby Phat imprint in 1999, becoming a mogul in her own right when the entire apparel enterprise was sold to the Kellwood Company in 2004 for $140 million. On Jan. 23, the Style Network will debut a new reality series, “Kimora: House of Fab,” which gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at her latest endeavor in the world of fashion. In an exclusive interview with Las Vegas Black Image, the woman self-defined by her “fabulosity” opens up about balancing motherhood with a thriving career, her beauty must-haves and why she still considers her ex-husband an important partner.
Tell us about your new show on the Style Network.
This is a brand new series called “Kimora: House of Fab.” It focuses on my work as president and creative director of JustFabulous, an online fashion company catering to almost 10 million registered users. It’s a look at fashion on the Web, and how we connect and engage with our consumers to deliver on-trend products that include bags, shoes, denim, dresses — on-time and at a value.
What is your main career focus for the new year?
I’ll continue to grow my fashion and beauty business, which includes JustFab. I’m excited to continue connecting with audiences via television.
How do you balance your career and your family time?
This is about prioritization. Work on what’s in front of you and what’s most important. No one wants to live their life imprisoned by their to-do list. Women who work outside of the home can sometimes find themselves behind the eight ball. Working all day, and then coming home to pick up “the second shift,” is challenging. As head of my household, it’s crucial that I stay focused and aware of all the moving parts of my career and family.
What are the elements of a good business venture?
It all starts with a great idea. After that, you need business knowledge about the field, the economy and the mechanics of whatever business you are in. Finally, you need a strong team of partners or associates to help you refine, critique and execute your vision. No one makes it by themselves anymore.
Are there many black women designers in the fashion industry who are decision-making positions?
I’ll say that most designers — when they start — don’t necessarily have all the knowledge they think they need. Design skills and creative direction are crucial, but you also need to know about manufacturing, distribution, licensing, finance and all the other disciplines that deliver your vision to consumers. Ultimately, the brilliance of even your favorite designer extends far beyond whatever they’ve got in their sketch pad. They have 360-degree working knowledge of the industry and all its components.
How would you define your business relationship with Russell Simmons?
We’re partners in so many different ways: as parents, philanthropists, and businesspeople. Russell and I collaborate on new and existing ventures to continue building and evolving. We inspire one another — and at times, we’re quite competitive. But we always agree when it comes to integrity and vision. We share a common understanding that at the end of the day, whatever we’re working on has to be about more than the bottom line. We like to empower and inspire all people to sit up and reach for what they want.
What was the most exciting thing to happen in your life in 2012?
I’ve enjoyed watching my daughters, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee, continue to grow into remarkable young women with strong senses of identity. They, along with my son, Kenzo Lee, are exploring the world in ways that are familiar and inspiring to me. I love to hear their views and perspectives and watch them develop into some pretty neat kids.
What is your advice to other women of color seeking success in the world of business?
Whatever your business is, know it inside and out. Learn about recent developments or emerging technologies that impact the business. Read about it and never stop trying to learn. That may include attending workshops or seminars. Or, it may be that you might have to join professional leagues or groups. You need to be armed with a working knowledge of the field and be prepared to seize an opportunity when it presents itself.
How do you relax and spend your free time?
I’m with my kids whenever possible. I enjoy hiking, doing art projects, designing clothes with my children and yoga. We are a tight-knit and active family, and that’s important. I’m a big fan of transcendental meditation and the clarity it provides me.
What are your “must-haves” for beauty?
My skin care company, Shinto Clinical, has a hydrator called Smooth Answer that offers ultra-moisture, and combats dehydration and inflammation for younger, dewy-looking skin. It’s clinically proven to immediately increase moisture in the skin. I also recommend a flattering lip gloss and a pair of black shades — both will take you further than you’d imagine. In addition, I’m a fan of FIXX No Frizz hair serum, and its ability to smooth and nourish hair and keep it where it belongs.
Why was it important for you to get involved in the 2008 presidential election? What does President Obama’s win mean to you?
There was so much at stake for ethnic minorities, for women, for undocumented workers, for veterans and the elderly — for everyone. I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and we weren’t poverty-stricken, but there wasn’t much opportunity for blacks, Hispanics or Asians. When the Republican candidate wrote off half the country — that was me! That was my family, my friends and my community. President Obama’s win, to me, signals a consensus that there will be no moving forward as a country without everyone — all people. All the groups I mentioned were not going to let anyone leave us out or leave us behind. We won’t allow it.
How do you stay in good physical condition? What is your routine?
It’s important to me to stay fit, and I appreciate my body less for how it looks than for how it allows me to keep up with my three very energetic kids and their activities. I approach thinking about my body from a point of gratitude for what it can do, in lieu of what I expect or wish it could do or look like. I enjoy yoga, walking, meditation, stretching … a few different things.
What really makes you happy?
My family makes me happy. They inspire me and refuel me. Watching the kids grow and explore is nourishing. It really brings everything into focus for me.