Kimora Lee was born on May 3, 1975, in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a Japanese mother and an African-American father. The young Kimora was unusually tall as a child, having reached the height of 5'10" by her 11th birthday. Her early growth spurt, coupled with her exotic looks, allowed Kimora to begin modeling in her early teens. At age 13, she was selected by one of the world's top fashion designers and impresarios, Karl Lagerfeld, to model his Chanel collection.
By the age of 14, Kimora was a thoroughly successful fashion model, strutting the catwalks in Paris. Because of her uncommon look, Lagerfeld dubbed her "the face of the 21st century." In addition to her work for Lagerfeld, the teenage model also became a favorite of other top designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Patrick Kelly.
Hip-hop mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons first laid eyes on Kimora while she walked the runway at a Mary McFadden fashion show in the early '90s. At that time, Kimora was 17; Simmons, 18 years her senior. They remained in contact over the next few years, and the relationship eventually became more serious. Simmons asked for Kimora's hand in marriage on New Year's Eve 1997, and they began making preparations to wed on Sean Combs' yacht. These rushed plans fell through, however, and the couple was married in December of 1998 in a civil ceremony in New York City.
Later that month, the newlyweds exchanged vows in a more romantic ceremony in a stone Angelican house of worship on the Caribbean island of St. Barthelemy. Kimora's close friends, models Tyra Banks and Veronica Webb, were bridesmaids, and Simmons' brother Joseph, also known as Run-DMC's Reverend Run, performed his first official marriage ceremony.
The couple's reception was held on a yacht, and their guest list included the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and Martha Stewart. The celebrations went on for the next 10 days until the couple moved on to their honeymoon destination, an exclusive spa on the isle of St. Maarten.
In 1999, Kimora Lee landed a gig hosting One World Music Beat, produced by hubby Russell. She made her acting debut in April of 2001, playing model Shamira in an episode of For Your Love entitled "The Model Client." In the 2002 hip-hop focused feature Brown Sugar, Kimora shared screen time with Taye Diggs, Mos Def and Queen Latifah.
Kimora landed the role of a lifetime when she became head of Baby Phat clothing, an extension of the Phat Farm empire that was founded by her husband in 1992. This female clothing line originated as a guerrilla marketing ploy in which Simmons distributed baby tees to models such as Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell. Kimora became involved in 1999 just as the concept was taking off, recommending changes to the fit and style of the products. Simmons passed the growing business off to his wife, and she was named the company's CEO and creative director in March of 2002.
With her experience as a model, designer and businesswoman, Kimora was an obvious choice to join the panel of judges for the debut season of America's Next Top Model. That same year, she appeared in the video for Ginuwine's "In Those Jeans," and shared a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event, as a co-producer of her husband's Def Poetry Jam.
In July of 2004, Kimora was arrested near her New Jersey home. The arresting officers claimed that she was stopped because she was driving erratically and had initially ignored their flashing lights. She was eventually charged with careless driving, tailgating, eluding a police officer, possession of marijuana, operating a vehicle in possession of a controlled substance, and driving with a burnt taillight.
Kimora's clothing division branched out into footwear after teaming up with Vida Shoes in 2004. The Baby Phat Diva sneaker was launched that summer, the first of a collection that was to include stilettos, wedges, boots, and baby shoes. In September of 2004, she became a co-host of Life & Style on UPN-TV. She made cameo appearances in the 2005 comedy features Beauty Shop, co-starring Queen Latifah and Alicia Silverstone, and Rebound, starring Martin Lawrence. Kimora and Russell have two daughters, Ming Lee, born in 2000, and Aoki Lee, in 2002.