NEW YORK — Russell Simmons may have given up his chief executive officer title at Phat Fashions, but one thing is certain— at age 49, he is far from retirement.
Traffic here is gridlocked this week because of the United Nations General Assembly, so Simmons was slightly late to the office on the 43rd floor of 512 Seventh Avenue, even though his commute is a little easier than it used to be since he now resides in an apartment on Liberty Street downtown. Simmons has moved out of his 49,000-square-foot estate in Saddle River, N.J., which is occupied by his estranged wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, and their daughters, Ming Lee, seven, and Aoki Lee, five.
Yet Kimora and Russell are clearly still friendly — he has even posed for pictures at parties with Kimora's new boyfriend, actor and Calvin Klein underwear model Djimon Hounsou.
Russell was also a key decision-maker in giving Kimora the job as creative director of the Kellwood Co.-owned Phat Fashions. Her new role means that, in addition to serving as creative director of Baby Phat and Baby Phat Girlz, she is trying her hand at men's wear, with creative control of both Phat Farm and XV, a brand just launched this year to celebrate Phat Farm's 15th year in business.
"Kimora has watched me do it for 15 years and she has already come to me with some great ideas for the men's lines," he said. "I'm not working on the brand every day anymore, but I am still economically plugged into Phat Farm and I will always hope they do well."
So now that Simmons has Phat Fashions behind him, he is on to his next big thing.
"We are ready to launch Global Grind," he said. "We've been working on this for two years and it's really something big."
GlobalGrind.com, which was expected to go live on Wednesday, is the brainchild of Simmons and Jim Breyer of Accel Partners, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture capital firm. The site, which Simmons called a "hip-hop Google," is a search engine for the next generation of Web browsers. Free of charge and fully customizable to the individual, GlobalGrind.com gives users the ability to gather information and wrap a community around the content they gather. For example, if a user is interested in politics (or "politricks" as it's called on the site), he or she can customize the site so that, on the home page, news stories on politics will appear. The same goes for fashion, entertainment and current events. Users also have access to curators who promote blogs, videos, music, podcasts, photos, specialist news and a mix of original and sourced editorial. Targeted to the hip-hop community, the site also leads debates where users can chime in on subjects such as "The war on hip-hop: Is hip-hop dead?" and other current issues involved in the culture. The site's tag line, "your Web filtered fresh," promises to engage users with a range of content that will educate and entertain."The hip-hop market is large and diverse — there are more than 24 million people in the U.S. who self-identify with hip-hop and collectively they have spending power of more than $500 billion," said Navarrow Wright, president and ceo of Global Grind. "Yet, to date, there has been no single online resource for this community that allows them to connect to the depth and breadth of the culture. Global Grind will allow users to pull all the things they see and do online into one place and share it with their peers.
"With the launch of Global Grind, we are solving and delivering a unified online experience that speaks to this powerful demographic by delivering the freshest content," he said.
The site's offices are based within Simmons' space on Seventh Avenue.
While the site launch is on the top of Simmons' list these days, multitasking is what he is known for, so there is much more than that on his agenda. While Phat Fashions was sold to Kellwood in 2004 for $140 million, he still has three other apparel brands — Russell Simmons Collection, Argyle Culture and Atman — under his Rush Communications umbrella.
All men's labels, Simmons said he sees the three of them growing into full lifestyle brands, which could eventually include women's wear. When he began launching these brands about two years ago, Kellwood helped him with production and jump-started his distribution. Argyle Culture, which is a young men's classics line, just hit the floor at Macy's this week. Atman, which is a fragrance and premium denim line, launched last year, and Russell Simmons Collection is a more formal line, made for "the urban graduate."
"Phat Farm may have been the first urban line to do well, but it certainly isn't the last," he said.
While Simmons said he is confident he can keep up with deliveries without the help of Kellwood, he did admit that, in order to grow these labels, he needs assistance and is in negotiations with "three or four large companies" to possibly purchase those brands. He declined to name the companies involved.
"We are going through a real transition within this company," he said. "I've had a lot of people coming here to meet with me about being a part of this transition. I am looking to partner with a firm that can commit to these brands and help me to grow them. I am thinking we will announce a deal very soon, possibly next week."In addition, Simmons is working on the growth of Simmons Jewelry Co., which sells primarily men's jewelry (with the exception of the partnership he has with the Hello Kitty brand, for which Kimora designs high-end jewelry) in 2,400 jewelry store doors. Simmons said a full women's jewelry line is in development.
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