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Kimora Lee Simmons, the New Queen of Conspicuous Consumption


Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel designer, said of Kimora, "This girl represents the nineties."  

The fashion company is but one sliver of Kimora’s portfolio: The Lucy Ricardo in her would give everything a whirl. Two years ago, Kimora recorded a demo; friends choke back laughter whenever the subject of “A Million” comes up. But Hollywood has been on line one ever since she was a judge on the UPN hit elimi-pageant, America’s Next Top Model. She’s been tapped as a correspondent for The Insider, an Entertainment Tonight off-shoot, and her View-like talk show, Life & Style, is arriving at the same time this fall as she heads into wide theatrical release as an NBA player’s ex in Beauty Shop, MGM’s Barbershop spinoff.

“I loved the whole experience, and I want to do more of it!” says Kimora, fresh from the MGM set. “Uh-oh!

“Damn! She’s basketball tall,” the techies marveled whenever she stepped out of her trailer, six four in heels, her three dogs yap-yap-yapping, a Who died?–size birthday wreath from her husband outside with the remains of an ice sculpture of her bitch-goddess self. Russell flew a poet in to recite some birthday verse: “27 Again,” the title teased.

Russell was ambivalent about her doing the movie. He doesn’t know if he wants everyone in the world to know just how crazy and funny and silly Kimora can be, because they’ve got some jeans to sell. “There’s a lot of stuff Russell wishes I wouldn’t do,” Kimora acknowledges.

At parties, if Russell is working the room, Kimora is a foot-tapper. “Whenever you’re ready,” she says loudly. “On some level, she probably resents the attention that Russell gets, because she was a model,” says one record-industry executive. Russell cocktail-parties with Mayor Bloomberg, Martha Stewart, Ron Perelman, Andre Balazs, Alan Grubman, Rabbi Marc Schneier. Sounding at times like a man planning a run for office, he’s been vocal about public-education funding, drug-law reform, and voter registration, and he gives almost $1 million a year to charity. Some say he once hoped for an appointment or a seat in Congress, but his pal and investor Bobby Shriver, who made more than $2 million in the Kellwood sale, thinks Russell’s not cut out to be a legislator, “and besides,” he says, “every congressman wishes they had the kind of platform he’s got.”

“Russell’s a cultural icon,” continues the record-industry executive. “And in the hip-hop world, it’s all about Russell.” There was a nasty cloudburst when Kimora said something to Combs and he threatened to hit her—“And I was pregnant! The moron!” says Kimora. Combs eventually got down on his knees in public to apologize. “I respect him for being a fierce entrepreneur,” she says now, “and I appreciate knowing that everything he does is emulating my husband.”

Russell and Kimora have a unique relationship in hip-hop culture, says Talley: “She’s not behind him, she’s on the side of him, and sometimes she’s in front of him!” But even though Kimora scored $20 million of her own from Kellwood, it’s Russell who is sitting in the director’s chair, Russell who just took her to England to meet Prince Charles.

“There’s a difference between a rapper talking about a luxury brand and someone who really has the ability to establish one,” says Russell. “I want people to know Kimora’s history.”

It’s a history that could have been ripped from the typewriter of Danielle Steel. Ten minutes after the warm hello, Kimora casually drops that she had an exclusive contract modeling for Chanel at the age of 13, exclamation point. Russell likes to say she lived with Karl Lagerfeld.

Already, one detects the myth-mongering. In 1989, shortly after the fourteenth candle was snuffed on Kimora Perkins’s cake, a scout in St. Louis put her on a plane to Paris. Chapter two, the House of Chanel. Lagerfeld had just broken up with his muse of six years: Expensive-looking Ines de la Fressange had posed as Marianne, an official symbol of France that Lagerfeld deemed “bourgeois.” In strode Kimora, late of Dillard’s department store in the Galleria mall. Lagerfeld repackaged her as a bejeweled child bride with a big-bowed hat for haute couture’s grand finale.

“This girl represents the nineties!” he told reporters. “She has human proportions!” When CNN’s Elsa Klensch asked where she was from, Lagerfeld professed ignorance. W magazine guessed she was Hawaiian.

“We always felt that Karl had kind of used Kimora to flaunt in Ines’s face,” says Kimora’s St. Louis agent, Delcia Corlew. “You know, a sort of, ‘Here’s this young girl who’s taking your place.’ ”

“It’s a wonderful thing I’ve created with you,” Lagerfeld told Kimora, “but now you’re a $5,000-tote-bag-wearing monster, and for that, I am sorry.”

“I was 13! I was certainly the youngest face. I was certainly the most different face that had ever been the bride or the muse!” says Kimora. In her adolescent mind, she believed that Lagerfeld, a confirmed bachelor with a Louis XV peruke, wanted to marry Ines. But Lagerfeld was dallying with other lovelies, too: Bernadette Jurkowski, Shoshanna Fitzgerald, and Olga Sobolewska. Women’s Wear Daily labeled all four “the Karlettes.”

“Olga was the only one on contract, and Olga’s name wasn’t really even Olga,” Shoshanna Fitzgerald Sebring remembers. “Karl just didn’t like her real name.”

Kimora was speedily indoctrinated in the ways of fantasy. But making friends was difficult because there were no other children skipping around 31, rue Cambon. “My de-ah, my de-ah, why do you have to walk like that?” said the Kaiser, as Lagerfeld is known. “Can’t you stand up straight?”

She was now pirouetting through the local McDonald’s in Chanel’s signature silk ballerina shoes, cardigan, and “camellia bows out the yin-yang,” she says. The stitch-and-snips at the house joked that Kimora had become “Mademoiselle Chanel.”

“She wanted a Porsche, she wanted a Mercedes, I knew that about her,” says Talley, who was introduced.

Lagerfeld himself was a grandee, proficient in the art of high maintenance, says Kimora: “I remember his house on Rue de l’Université. It was like, hoist the piano through the window. Hoist the ten-ton marble sculpture up the six flights of stairs. This was just the process of bringing things home.”

The particulars of life inside the castle keep are not forthcoming, because she didn’t live there, and worked only two seasons for Chanel, says her second agent, Bethann Hardison. “It was a novelty for Karl, a moment,” says Hardison flatly. “She talks about it a lot because it’s chic to talk about.”

“You know how Russell will say, ‘My wife has traveled all over the world and she speaks these different languages and she taught me what fork to pick up?’ ” Kimora says. “Well, Karl taught me which fork to pick up. Andtospeakveryquickly.”

Whereas other models could be frosty Sno-Kones, Kimora radiated a sunny familiarity as she was fussed over at fittings. But Kimora was always in the fridge or running up a scandalous phone tab. Lagerfeld’s patience was not elastic. “She got on people’s nerves,” says Hardison. “The child was ostentatious.”

“It’s a wonderful thing I’ve created with you,” Lagerfeld told her that fall, “but now you’re a $5,000-tote-bag-wearing monster, and for that, I am sorry. Now sit down and be quiet!” Kimora requested Tyra Banks as her roommate in one model apartment, and they tried to visit every Häagen-Dazs store in Paris. “She always had the new Prada bag and would laugh at me because mine was from Wal-Mart,” says Banks.

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