Simmons is of Korean, Japanese, and African American descent. Her mother is Korean American/Japanese American 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-foot 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, Simmons was awarded an exclusive modeling contract with Chanel and just after her fourteenth birthday, she left for Paris 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 foot, 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 North High School in St. Louis, Missouri.
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 Playstation 2 video game “Def Jam Fight for NY”. 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.
Kimora’s book 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 two perfumes for women: Goddess and Golden Goddess.
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 first aired in January 2008.
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 live in the town of Saddle River New Jersey.
Russell filed for divorce 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. In 2004 Russell sold Phat Farm to Kellwood Company for $140 million dollars. 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. As of March 2007, Simmons has been dating actor/model Djimon Hounsou.
In March 2008 the New York Post page six reported that Kimora is pregnant with Hounsou’s child. Her rep has not confirmed or denied this claim.