NEW YORK — How will Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons manage to work together now that they’ve split? “It’s going to be awkward,” one friend and business associate of the couple said Friday.
Yet the couple insists things will be fine with their fashion businesses, Phat Farm and Baby Phat. “We have been together for 14 years,” Russell said in a statement. “Kimora and I will remain committed parents and caring friends with great love and admiration for each other. We will also continue to work side by side on a daily basis as partners in all of our businesses.”
From the beginning, Russell and Kimora had their differences. For one thing, there was the 18-year age gap. Then there were the two seemingly contradictory sides of Russell’s personality. On one hand, there was his widely documented appetite for women. On another, there was his growing interest in finding a spiritual path. As one friend of both said, “At the end of the day, he’s a yoga head. He’s a very introverted, quiet guy and whether or not he’s running around [on Kimora], he eats macrobiotic food, and he’s politically involved. She’s materialistic and demanding. She’s the antithesis of him.”
Said another: “He hurts after he writes a check and all she wants to do is buy more houses. In the end, she’d get him to do what she wanted, but it had to be aggravating for someone who’s not that person.” Indeed, sources said, they were a highly combustible pair who fought a lot.
Still, it wasn’t not exactly clear just what caused the split. As of a month ago, the couple was still putting in public appearances together, showing up for the Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton’s, where observers said things seemed normal.
But perhaps they were putting on a good face. Others said over that party-heavy weekend, the two were frequently spotted out alone. When someone ran into Russell at the Los Angeles Confidential party and asked where his wife was, he said, “at home,” and changed the topic.
And there were other signs all was not well. According to another friend, Russell had moved out of the house at least once in recent months, only to return later after the couple patched things up. And another friend who ran into Kimora earlier this year was treated to a tirade about Russell’s other women. “She said, ‘Russell just drives me crazy. There are, like, 13 other girls. But I keep it moving,'” the friend recalled Kimora saying.
Then there were what some sources called growing tensions over the business, owned by Kellwood Co. In recent years, the Kimora-led Baby Phat label has taken off, while Phat Farm has stagnated. “I think that made Russell jealous,” said a source close to Kimora.
It’s something one’s heard frequently from her friends, while it’s made his bristle. Though Russell’s supporters admit that Baby Phat has begun to dwarf Phat Farm, they said the bulk of the credit for both lies with him, not her. “She may be the face of Baby Phat,” said one person who has had business dealings with both of them, “but it was his idea.”
Said another, “I’ve never seen a guy lay himself out there and blow underneath his wife’s wings the way Russell did with Kimora.”
And many also have wondered how much control Simmons will be able to exert over Kimora now that they’re splitting. Though her side of the business is doing well, they said, she can be notoriously lazy, skipping work for days on end and sleeping in well past noon.
“She loves to sleep,” said one person who’s spent weekends with her. “It’s her favorite thing to do.”
In fact, when Kimora was hired to do a syndicated talk show called “Life and Style” — a sort of urban version of “The View” — she managed to miss more than 30 days of work, according to three sources who worked on the show. “It was, ‘I’m sick of this, I’m tired, I don’t want to get out of bed.’ She’s like a petulant child,” said one person who worked closely with her on the show. One other reason Kimora reportedly gave for an absence was the death of her cat.
But others said she’s improved, and takes Baby Phat more seriously at this point. And Kellwood, which acquired Phat Fashions LLC in February 2004 for $140 million in cash, said in a statement, “Individually, Russell and Kimora are well-known personalities and entrepreneurs. As members of the Kellwood family, Russell and Kimora will continue to successfully partner and lead business initiatives relative to the world of Phat Farm and Baby Phat.”
Retailers surveyed don’t anticipate that the couple’s separation will impact sales of Baby Phat. One retailer said simply, “Kimora has done a great job of developing Baby Phat as a brand. The consumer gravitates toward the product. They have a pretty deep foundation of what’s going on, and it will continue to operate as it has. The quality is great.”
Russell certainly isn’t in hiding. There’s evidence he’s even coming out of his spiritual shell, as a result of the split. On Thursday night, he showed up at the Maritime Hotel for Paper Magazine’s “Beautiful People Issue” party, which he arrived at with Richie Akiva, who promotes the model-heavy Monday night party at the East Village haunt, “Butter.” (Us Weekly, which broke the news of the split, has already linked Simmons to 23-year-old model Denise Vasi.)
The couple, who has been married seven years, has homes in East Hampton, N.Y., and Los Angeles. Their main house is in New Jersey, a 49,000-square-foot compound with a movie theater, meditation room, indoor and outdoor pools and a home gym.
Russell and Kimora met at a Mary McFadden fashion show 14 years ago, when Kimora was a teenager modeling on the catwalk. Russell asked friends for an introduction. They began dating shortly thereafter.
Russell Simmons started Baby Phat in 1999, and Kimora stepped in the following year and revamped the women’s collection. Since then, Kimora, 30, has expanded the Baby Phat empire to include intimate apparel, accessories, footwear, beauty, fragrance and jewelry.
This month, Baby Phat Intimate Apparel, licensed to Age Group Ltd., hit major department stores. Last April, Kimora launched a fine jewelry collection, Kimora Lee Simmons for Hello Kitty, a partnership between Sanrio and Simmons Jewelry Co., an affiliate of M. Fabrikant & Sons. Simmons Jewelry designs the Simmons Jewelry men’s line and Baby Phat watches.
On her own, Kimora developed a color cosmetics line, KLS, which is sold exclusively at Sephora. She also has plans to launch a higher-priced line of apparel under the KLS label for fall 2007 retailing.
The Simmons’ two daughters, Ming Lee, 6, and Aoki Lee, 3, have modeled in their mother’s ad campaigns for years and are featured in the Baby Phat and Baby Phat Girz ads.
A spokeswoman for Coty, which produces the Baby Phat Goddess fragrance, said, “At this time, we have no comment.” Coty is developing a fragrance with Russell Simmons and a flanker to Kimora’s original fragrance, called Golden Goddess.
— With contributions from Lauren DeCarlo and Julee Greenberg