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Kimora Lee Simmons Has a Strong Opinion on the Term 'Urban' in Fashion

At the Beverly Hills store opening for her new brand Kimora Lee Simmons, the designer reflects on Baby Phat and what 'urban' actually means.
Kimora Lee Simmons. Photo: Kimora Lee Simmons

Kimora Lee Simmons. Photo: Kimora Lee Simmons

About a year ago, Kimora Lee Simmons launched KLS Kimora Lee Simmons (she's since dropped the "KLS"), a ready-to-wear collection of very smartly tailored dresses, silk blouses and tuxedo trousers—think Olivia Pope if she spent less time in the White House and more time on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive. On Thursday, we attended the brand's first retail store's grand opening party a few blocks from Rodeo on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. The store has actually been open since this summer, but the champagne was flowing and Kimora — whose larger-than-life personality makes her seem much taller than her six feet — worked the room as if this were the store's true debut.

Kimora has leveraged that can't-look-away personality into an incredibly lucrative brand. Her early resumé is '90s lore: plucked at 14 from the Midwest to model for Chanel in Paris, married to hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons not long after, together with Simmons founded contemporary womenswear line Baby Phat, spent the mid-2000s producing and starring in multiple eminently watchable reality shows surrounding her unapologetically lavish lifestyle.

Given her well-known (and perhaps carefully curated) image as a diva, Simmons was refreshingly down-to-earth when she sat down with us to discuss her vision for Kimora Lee Simmons, how she thinks she has evolved since Baby Phat, and what she thinks people mean when they call things "urban." (An area around which her ex-husband also has strong opinions.)

Your brand has a very tailored and expensive aesthetic. Is there a type of woman you picture wearing the line?

Being a mom and being a professional woman, obviously those two are some of my favorite types of women.

I admire strong women. That's clearly not to say only professional women are strong. But the reason I find, for example, a lawyer interesting is you have to go into court and argue your case, and you have to have a sense of self-confidence. You have to look good, but not be too flashy. You have to exude confidence inside out. In that sense, I think of a lawyer as representing one aspect of the KLS woman.

I like that there are a lot of body conscious looks in the collection without being too obvious.

I call it easy dressing. We do pieces that are form-fitting. But you don't have to have a perfect body to look perfect in our pieces. I mean, I just had a baby — he’s right over there — and they're already asking me if I'm pregnant, honey. I tell them, no that's just the belly I didn't lose. I'm wearing it and I'm not anybody's size two, I'm a size you-know-who, honey.

I wouldn't usually use this term because it can be pretty loaded, but do you think this line is less urban than people might expect from you?

What does urban mean?

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Well that's a really good question. What do you think urban means?

I think it means, in the city.

Would you call Kimora Lee Simmons urban?

Not only. I would call it city chic or city sleek.

I come from Phat Fashions, where we had a jean company and we were, you know, in mass distribution. There were only a handful of people doing what Russell and I did. That was a time where, I think because we looked a certain way, people thought that was urban.

I think it means a lot of different things. I never liked that narrow urban connotation because it pigeon-holes people. This line is not an entry-level price point; it is obviously more at a designer price point. [Ed note: Prices range from around $600 to $3,500.] It is high quality fabrications, it's luxury, it's tailored.

I'm of mixed heritage. You can find designers of all different races now, so if people mean urban to maybe indicate a skin color or some association there, I've grown up. KLS is elegant, it's multicultural, it's sexy, it's chic, it's refined.

Well you have grown up.

I have a lot of women worldwide who have grown up with me. I've made a party dress for them, I've made jeans for them, I've made shoes for them. Now they're grown up handling their business and I feel they're right there with me now too.

You've told me about the past, you've told me about the present. What do you see in the future? Is your new brand still speaking to the women who wore Phat Fashion?

I like to think I'm speaking to everybody. I feel like if you looked at interviews from the past, I always said my dream was to have a store. I was the girl who did the first fashion show live in Time Square, and the first show in Radio City Music Hall. I've broken a lot of barriers in a lot of big ways. But this is from my heart. When you open up your jewelry box at home, where a girl keeps her precious secrets, this store is the representation of that for me.