Kimora Lee Simmons is a designer, former fashion model and businesswoman. She was born on May 4, 1975 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother is of Japanese and Korean descent but was adopted by an American family during the Korean War so she grew up in America. Her father is of African American descent, who worked in a number of jobs such as an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator, a bail bondsman, a Federal Marshal as well as a barber. He was sentenced to jail time for being a drug dealer. Her parents separated, and Simmons was raised by her mother.
Kimora grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis and went through a difficult time at school because the other children teased her for being so tall and due to her mixed ancestry. By the age of 11, she was already 5 feet 10 inches in height. Next year, her mother enrolled her in a modeling class to give her more confidence. She graduated from Lutheran North High School in St. Louis. At the age of 13, she was discovered by an agent from Paris Agency Glamour when she participated in a model search organized in Kansas City. At the age of 14, she signed an exclusive contract with Karl Lagerfeld, who was a designer for Chanel. She was the show closer for his haute couture line in 1989.
Soon, Kimora was getting a lot of attention in the fashion industry. She also received modeling contracts from Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent. She mentioned in a few interviews how her height, which was earlier considered gangly and awkward by her classmates, was now an advantage for her. She was featured on the covers of Harper’s Bazaar magazine in Germany, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
At the age of 17, Kimora met Russell Simmons at New York City’s Fashion Week in 1992. Simmons was 35 years old at the time. The couple was married on a Caribbean island by Simmons’ brother, who was a certified minister. They were married in 1998 and separated in 2006. They also had two daughters together. In March 2007, Simmons met her second husband, an actor and model named Djimon Hounsou. In 2008, the couple took vows in a traditional Benin commitment ceremony, and had a son the following year. However, they were never legally married as per U.S. law. They separated at the end of 2012. Her next husband was a banker named Tim Leissner, with whom she had a son.
During her first marriage, Simmons served as the CEO of Phat Fashions LLC as well as Creative Director of Baby Phat. In 2007, she launched a high end sportswear line called KLS. She was removed from that post in 2010, allegedly due to going over budget on her projects and for paying herself a very high salary. Since then, she has designed an affordable clothing line for Macy’s departmental store and served as the Creative Director and President of a shopping website called JustFab. Kimora Lee Simmons has also appeared in television shows and movies such as Beauty Shop, America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 1, Brown Sugar, and Waist Deep. She has also been featured in rap music videos and had her own reality show called “Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane”. She has written a self-help book and launched several lines of perfumes.