Despite having what others might consider a trying few months, Kimora Lee Simmons has taken on another new challenge as the lead global ambassador for The Unmentionables.
Forget the usual rigmarole of raising four children and running a fashion label in unsteady times. The designer is earning the final credits for her undergraduate degree from the University of Hartford, leading the occasional seminar, building skin-care and energy-drink businesses and eyeing new career opportunities. Add to that the fact her ex-husband Russell is fending off allegations of sexual misconduct and a few lawsuits. Last month, she was the target of a graffiti-ed death threat in a Los Angeles movie theater. And a few months back, when California wildfires posed a different kind of threat, she and her husband Tim Leissner evacuated their family — pets and all — from their house.
While it’s safe to say she has a lot going on, Simmons didn’t sound the least bit rattled in an interview Wednesday night. In fact, aside from speaking animatedly about her children and mention of her 21-pound weight loss, the designer wasn’t interested in talking up herself, never mind recent dramas. When asked, she answered. Speaking without hesitation — and absent of talking points and publicists — Simmons can’t help but sound like someone who is telling you what she really thinks. But her new role with The Unmentionables, a nonprofit that helps people living in displaced communities, was her focus.
In time for World Refugee Day on June 20, she and her family will travel to Greece to help migrant families in The Unmentionables’ facility where sexual health and reproductive education and care to refugees. The organization estimated that more than 75 percent of those en route to Europe taking the central Mediterranean route are facing “appalling levels of abuse, exploitation and trafficking.” After Hurricane Harvey struck last fall, leaving $125 billion in damage in its wake, Simmons and her children, who range in age from three to 18, pitch in with the group’s relief efforts in Texas. Her matched donations on Giving Tuesday generated a record-breaking $24,000 for The Unmentionables — thanks in part to her robust social media following.
“Since they were little, we have always had philanthropic missions. I have the Kimora Lee Simmons Scholarship Fund. On different holidays, we go out and give toys, canned goods or whatever. We’ve worked with Make-a-Wish,” she said. “I feel like it’s been an ongoing note in the tone of their lives. They’re young so it’s important they know that you don’t live a certain life because of your hard work. It’s your parents’ hard work or the businesses that we have. I’ve been working in the business since I was 10 or 11.”
She continued. “We’re a unit, but you did not do it — you go to school. It’s important that they don’t get too big-headed about their lives…It’s important to see there are people living outside of your town — where you went on a class trip, on a vacation or maybe somewhere you would like to visit — who are displaced.”
Her eldest daughter Ming Lee Simmons wants to pursue a business degree once she graduates from high school this spring. The teenager “doesn’t have an agent or anything,” she is doing a little modeling and working as an influencer. With 642,000 Instagram followers, she has worked with Kode, Galore, Good American and M Jewellers. Kimora Lee Simmons said, “Sometimes she’ll have cuter shoes than me and I’ll say, ‘Where’d do you get that?’ and she’ll say, ‘I made it.’ There are so many shoes. I’m like her packing facility and distribution, because I get so many packages.”
All in all, Simmons loves that kids and young people can lend their voices and personalities to brands as influencers. Without warning, her own voice shouted “Quest! Quest!” which was not a moment of self-motivation, but an attempt to silence one of her sizesble dogs. As the barking calmed down, Simmons said she tells students all the time that the fashion industry “needs fresh minds and young creative people that we mentor.”
Her own business pursuits include Codage skin care, which is sold in Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, as well as the energy drink Celsius. “It is clinically proven to be a negative calorie drink. So your metabolism is boosted and you will burn at least 100 calories. And that’s proven and it has to be to make claims like that,” she said, adding other initiatives in fashion, film and entertainment are in the works — all self-funded. She said with a laugh, “I am the investor. I am investing in a lot of brands. Sometimes it’s sweat equity but working, growing. But you come from a different place of authenticity when you invest your own capital. You can tell people, ‘Yeah, I drink Celsius too.’ My history in business over the past 20 years — that’s what resonates the best with my fan base or consumer base. They like that you are genuinely attached to it. They believe that and they can see that I use it too. I lost 21 pounds since January. I use Celsius, I work out and I practice some of what I preach.”
As for last month’s movie theater death threat, Simmons said she only learned about it after the fact. “I had taken a couple of hundred kids from the inner city to see ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ so I was in the building when it happened. We did a meet-and-greet and a photo-op,” she said. “You never know with those things. They should always be taken seriously. I hope it’s just some silly kids. But I did not personally have a problem that day or report it. I found out when everyone else found out.”
Russell Simmons, meanwhile, has disputed claims of sexual misconduct including rape allegations. (The couple divorced in 2009.) Kimora Simons said, “It’s not up to me to really address things that happened for him. Obviously, we have kids and my main focus is usually dealing with my kids and my family. I wouldn’t feel it’s my place to comment or address things like that. I would always say, ‘You should speak to him…or I’m not there, I wasn’t in it.’ Some of the things were like when I was three [years old]. Some of them span a good length of time. I wouldn’t know the dates. I don’t really deal with these people or know them. It’s just not my place to comment on something that I don’t know much about.”
As for how his spirits are, his ex-wife described them as “OK. Any time that you have something like that it’s probably always very tough on the person, not just something like that but anything in life that would come at you in that nature. It probably takes a lot to always defend yourself and vigorously defend your name and your image.”
She continued, “But of course, that’s what I would do if this were my situation. Again, you raise kids, you have a family, you want to try to teach them the right thing. So you have to fight for what you believe in, for what’s right and fight to always have the truth come out for all parties involved. I think that’s very important. I’m sure it can be very tiring or daunting when you’re dealing with someone like that who is very visible and a very high-profile member of the community who has worked with so many in various communities and who gives back to the communities. It’s a lot of work to deal with that, to defend yourself or to clear your name. But you have to do that, right until you can’t go on any more.”