"It's all part of the evolution," said Kimora Lee Simmons at the press preview and debut of her new designer womenswear line on Friday. "People know me, I'm not new. I'm an old soul around here, but this is what I'm feeling now and I hope that they trust my judgement as a customer and a woman." It's true, everyone knows the name Kimora Lee Simmons. Twenty-five years ago, she was plucked at age 14 from St. Louis, MO and brought to Paris to model on contract for Chanel. "Oftentimes when I talk to Karl [Lagerfeld], he says what we did was illegal. Nowadays these girls are at least 18 or 19."
But that was just the beginning. Famously she went on to marry Def Jam cofounder Russell Simmons, build the contemporary, urban womenswear line Baby Phat and produce (and star in) several reality shows. Her powerful personal brand — featuring multiple fragrances, a self-help book and more — was ubiquitous in the mid-2000s, but served a decidedly lower price-point market than the one she enters now. In fact, in 2011, she was named president and creative director of JustFab.com, a members-only site that sells shoes in a monthly subscription for only $39.95.
About 18 months ago, Simmons decided to launch the collection because she says she couldn't find versatile clothing that fit her own lifestyle, going from day to night or from a business meeting to a cocktail party. But with prices ranging from $600 to $3500, Simmons's new line is not for everyone. "This is definitely catered to a woman who has a little spending power," she says. "It's very classic and it's my take on what would be basic. Not exactly basic, but updated and upgraded basic."
The luxury is felt in the fabrics — cashmere, leather, double-layered silks mixed with mesh, ponte and jacquards. Flashes of skin in slits or under mesh and body-hugging silhouettes maintain a sexier aesthetic that Simmons was looking for. "There's always a little edge to it ... it has a little sex appeal, whether it's a dress or a tailored suit," she said.
Unlike other brands that come into the designer market, Simmons has an unusually well-funded infrastructure. She debuted the KLS pre-fall collection the same day a holiday capsule went on sale on her website, KLS.com. For now, her clothing will only be available on the site or at her very own boutique opening in Beverly Hills this spring, meaning she will have to generate her own buzz in order to get customers to come to her. Her personal life still has the power to make headlines (she recently married investment banker Tim Leissner and is now pregnant with her fourth child), but whether that will be an impetus or deterrent for the right kind of customer is yet to be determined — and absolutely crucial.