New York Magazine

LADY KIMORA

The Baby Phat designer returns.
Simmons, age 15, posing in Paris in a leather Chanel suit by Karl Lagerfeld.

Kimora Lee Simmons spots someone at the table across from her. She’s at her usual haunt, sitting with legs crossed in a plush, poppy-colored armchair in the opulent lobby restaurant of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. She makes eye contact with an older black gentleman sipping a beautiful drink in a crystal glass. He gives a smile and a nod of recognition; she returns the nod in kind.

Simmons, the onetime model and onetime mogul, loves it here. She has spent stretches of the summer in Paris since she was 13, when she was plucked from a modeling school in a St. Louis mall, signed to an exclusive Chanel contract, and selected to wear the coveted last look in Karl Lagerfeld’s 1989 haute couture show: a wedding gown for the fashion industry’s child bride. Success and money led to frequent stays at the Plaza Athénée like a barely adult Eloise. She threw her children’s birthday parties here. (Once, there was a Marie Antoinette theme.) She spent time here with her ex-husband, Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, whom she met when she was 17 and he was 35.

Now, at 44, Simmons rents an apartment just around the corner but comes to the Plaza Athénée lobby several times a week, talking for hours and ordering snacks for her four children, three of whom are here today—Aoki Lee, 17; Ming Lee, 19; and Kenzo Lee, 10. (Her 4-year-old is at home napping.) Here, everything you touch is of lush velvet, the sounds are of spindly heels tapping on a marble floor and a harp playing, the smells are of the most delicate florals, and the tastes are of fresh white truffle sprinkled on pasta.

Does she know the man across the lobby? “Not really,” Simmons says. They’ve never talked. But they are both often here, sitting in the lobby, having snacks, she explains out of the side of her frozen smile, lips barely moving, as if she were her own ventriloquist. He’s probably someone important because everyone here is somebody. “He’s probably like the king of Zimbaaaabwe or something!”

There’s no king of Zimbabwe. There’s a president. It is not that man. But sure. In the flashy, bedazzled dimension Simmons created for herself long ago, there has always been a different sort of possibility. After all, a five-star Paris hotel where Elizabeth Taylor stayed is her kids’ Chuck E. Cheese’s.

The unapologetic consumerism of the early-aughts hip-hop fashion scene can be summarized in the image

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