By  on June 2, 2006

NEW YORK — Unlike nearly every other celebrity with a fragrance, Russell Simmons makes no bones about the fact that having a namesake scent was never one of his life goals. In fact, until Coty — which also produces his estranged wife’s fragrances — came up with the idea of donating the music and apparel impresario’s profits to charity, it’s fair to say that Simmons not only didn’t have a driving need to do a fragrance, he didn’t even want one.

“It wasn’t at the top of my list,” Simmons said wryly. But that was before Simmons and Coty came up with an idea: to create a scent that funded charities closest to Simmons’ heart. Those were the magic words to Simmons. He became best-known for his role as the co-founder of Def Jam records and then parlayed his success into Phat Farm, the apparel line, but Simmons considers his role as a philanthropist to be his most important one. “The basis for everything we do is about giving,” he said. “All the receiving we get is a result of giving.”

The result was Phat Farm Atman — which means “spirit of man” in ancient Sanskrit. “Now it has a purpose,” he said. “I’m not saying fragrances are frivolous, just that I think this adds to the levels of value, relevance and substance.”

While Kimora Lee Simmons’ fragrances, Baby Phat Goddess and Goddess Gold, are unapologetically over the top, Russell Simmons was determined to bring a spiritual side to his scent. “They said spiritual fragrances wouldn’t sell, but those were the ones I liked,” said Simmons, after a vegan lunch — “nothing that could run from you,” as he described it — at the new Jivamukti Yoga Studio here. “And [Atman] is a tough name, but it tested very well among consumers. I wanted to invest in something we could use to help people, and if it has half the success of Goddess [Kimora Lee Simmons’ blockbuster first fragrance], I’ll be able to help a lot of people.”

It’s been 12 years since Simmons founded Phat Farm LLC. It was acquired by Kellwood in February 2004 for $140 million in cash. “It’s like the American dream,” Simmons said of Phat Farm, adding that while the initial consumers bought big logos, the line has now “crossed over” to a number of demographic categories. “It’s still inspired totally by hip-hop,” he said, adding that top sellers include a T-shirt with a simple logo and argyle sweaters with moderate logo crests. “We’ve become what we talked about — and we celebrate that. Our brand is resilient. It has grown every year for 15 years. That’s the overall brand, Phat Farm, as well as Baby Phat. The urban brands have not been as great over the last three to four years. But we’re seeing this little crest represent what it was always meant to represent: the American dream, the idea that these brands were not only made for or limited to [certain ethnic groups].”

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