NEW YORK — Kimora Lee Simmons doesn’t take no for an answer — at least, not very often.
When Simmons — who launched her first fragrance, with Coty, to great fanfare last fall — decided she wanted to enter the color cosmetics category and didn’t have a corporate partner, she chose a different path: producing it herself.
“I did my KLS Cosmetics line myself, with my own money,” she emphasized during an interview at Boudoir, a private club here. “It’s been incorrectly said that Coty is doing this [color line], and that’s not true. I did this myself. I’ve gone over the formulations, I paid for the batches. We’ve been in development for well over a year, between the packaging and the products and names, everything that goes with it. This is not a licensed deal — this is me. I’m in this for the long haul.”
Like its creator, the KLS Cosmetics line is designed to be on the trendy side. “It’s a youthful line, a little trendy, although we’re not a slave to the trends. We embrace them and interpret them for ourselves,” said Simmons. “The colors are very sheer and easy to use. This line is about enhancing your natural beauty, not hiding it.”
Simmons didn’t disclose what she spent on development costs, but industry sources estimated the tab was likely north of $1 million. Given the expense, why was Simmons so adamant about entering the category? “I think that’s in the entrepreneurial spirit in which we’re living, and that’s important,” said Simmons.
“I also think it says a lot for a woman of color, like myself. The world is shifting to multi-cultural beauty and diversity. From a fashion point, we are well integrated. But that isn’t always properly expressed in the world of beauty. It’s been very slow to come. I look up to other women, like Iman, who has her own [cosmetics ] line. It’s not an uncharted territory, but it is sort of a neglected one.”
Pointing to a dressing table holding her $22.50 bronzer and her Metallic Lip Kiss Kit, a lip gloss palette with six shades, Simmons noted, “Before I got into this, I was approached by many different cosmetics companies; very big Japanese companies and American companies. One of them was to be the spokesmodel, and another was to design my own line, like a fashion capsule. But that would have been doing it for someone else. I asked myself, after the overwhelming success of the fragrance, where can I go from here? What can I do to inspire women? And the answer was cosmetics.”
Simmons began previewing the first KLS Beauty products — $16 lip glosses — on her Web site, babyphat.com, in October. The complete 64-stockkeeping-unit collection — with prices ranging from $10.50 for eyebrow gel to $38.50 for a color kit; most items are in the $16 to $24 range — will be launched in its first bricks-and-mortar distribution in April, and industry sources estimate that it could do $5 million to $7 million in retail sales during its first year on counter.
At launch, Sephora will be the exclusive retailer for the color cosmetics, although the line will likely go into broader distribution in the future. Simmons said that in many Sephora stores, the color cosmetics will be merchandised with the fragrance. “In the beauty world, now is my time — who would have thunk it?” she said with a laugh. “So far, the color has had a great response, and it hasn’t even officially launched yet.” The initial distribution will be in 15 Sephora doors, including Times Square and Boston. By yearend, it is expected to be available in 50 Sephora doors.
Simmons noted that the Sephora gondolas are in keeping with the “fabulosity” of the line: They are attention-grabbing gold, as is the packaging of her cosmetics. “It’s the most over-the-top gondola they have,” she said. “It’s bling-bling and fabulous. They’ve never seen anything like it. Then again, they hadn’t seen anything like my fragrance bottle, either. I’m the one that’s always over the top.”
And Simmons is perfectly comfortable there. “Yes, I’m over the top, and yes, I’m unapologetic, and yes, I have really big diamonds, but I have an equally big heart and an equally big spirit,” she quipped. Not to mention an equally big to-do list: In addition to readying her cosmetics collection, Simmons has just released a book, and has a hot denim line and a new fragrance flanker, Baby Phat Golden Goddess, on the way for this fall.
Simmons’ first scent, Baby Phat Goddess, launched in September 2005, about a year after she signed a beauty deal with Coty. And she hasn’t slowed down at all since then, signing licenses for jewelry, lingerie, footwear and watches, among other things. And in addition to her upcoming flanker, Simmons is also helping her husband, Russell Simmons, develop a men’s fragrance for Coty. Her hope for her beauty offerings? To help other women look their best. “Like other working mothers, I’m always on the go,” said Simmons. “I want to be beautiful and glamorous and put together, but I have two kids, a husband and my businesses, so it’s not easy. So I’m definitely speaking to that woman, but I’m also speaking to the young, stylish woman who prides herself on knowing every color and every new product and every new clumping, cooling thing.”
Simmons also has her eye on additional beauty categories. “I definitely want to go into skin care and hair care, but I’m focusing on one thing at a time,” she said.
When she’s not developing products, Simmons has a loftier goal: raising her daughters, Ming Lee, six, and Aoki Lee Simmons, three. Both have already begun to follow in their famous mother’s footsteps, strutting their stuff on the catwalk at the Child Magazine fashion show and during the finale of the Baby Phat show during the just-past New York Fashion Week.
Which leads Simmons to another goal: entering the children’s market with apparel and possibly a fragrance. She’s also working on a new apparel line, KLS, which is aimed at specialty stores — “It’s a little higher-end [than Baby Phat],” she noted. “We just signed the deal, and it should be in stores by spring 2007. I want to offer women everything they need — their lingerie, their clothes, their bedding, their fragrance, their makeup, jewelry, fine jewelry, Hello Kitty jewelry. I’ve got your bags, your outerwear, your shoes. I’ve got your faux fur. I’m getting into home decor [bedding is expected this fall].
“It’s all about a lifestyle brand, honey,” she said with a grin.
As for Russell’s scent, it will have “amazingly funky packaging,” she said. “We’re working on the name, and I think we’ve got the scent nailed.”
Simmons is also making appearances for her new book, “Fabulosity” (Regan Books). A cross between self-help and biography, it offers surprisingly practical and down-to-earth advice, and reads like a one-on-one conversation with Simmons. “At the appearances that I make, younger women have all sorts of questions for me, many in the ‘how-to’ category,” she said. In the text, Simmons dishes out tips on fashion, money management and careers, broken down into 16 “laws.” Chief among them: Defy the haters.
“It’s like some sort of sick mathematics formula,” said Simmons. “The brighter a woman shines, the bolder she stands and the more fabulous she looks, the more haters will try to topple her right off her steel-heeled Jimmy Choos…When you make big gestures, no matter how fabulous you may think they are, you automatically become a big target.
“You can’t listen to them,” she said, “or you’ll start to doubt yourself.”
Rather than sitting back, Simmons has a simple solution: Be out of the box and proud of it. “If you’re always thrown off your game by other people’s negative opinions,” she notes, “you’re going to have a problem! You have to have a positive self-image and know that you deserve to be there. You can’t be waiting for validation from some outside source, like a man or a job. You have to know it for yourself, and be fabulous for yourself.”