Such a great big space required lots of filling. First, there’s Russell’s art, a rare Dalai Lama face mask, some Bleckners, a Clemente here, a Warhol-Basquiat collaboration there. And Kimora’s innumerable objets: Fabergé eggs (“all from Czar whomever—Nicholas! I mean, what he gave to his czarina, right? They’re probably not original—see! Fabergé eggs! I love my eggs. So Phoebe, if you see an egg, send it to me, okay?”), Limoges boxes (“That’s the little tag that I want to rip off, but my mother would tell me not to”), pillows needlepointed with validation (TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING IS SIMPLY WONDERFUL).
After Gianni Versace died, Kimora practically showed up at Sotheby’s with a moving van. “This is actually Versace’s china. His very own that he ate off,” she said with liturgical solemnity. “This is His own personal bed from His personal bedroom. His mattress. You go figure it out.”
Versace was one of the few designers who could actually create a supermodel, but he didn’t think Kimora was sexy. “Kimora’s such a baby!” he used to say, which made her glum because she preferred his extravagant stylings. Now Kimora’s older daughter, Ming, 4, was jumping up and down on His satin-duchesse bedspread, on His $20,000 mahogany lit d’alcove.
“No respect for the Versace bed,” Kimora said calmly. “There is nothing in here that a kid can’t touch.” When she was growing up, her white stepmother had a white sofa. And she would say, “You’re gonna get it if you don’t get out of my living room.”
There are no white sofas here. Or white pets. “Who’s even this color in this house?” she shouted to her assistant, spotting some fuzz on a tufted ottoman. “All my animals are black!”
Kimora collects mutts. Some have snooty names like Beluga. Miyake is a cat that showed up on her doorstep, “so calm and sweet, like the people in Saddle River,” she said. “But I have another one, Midnight, from the ghettos of Seattle. He’s long and wiry and crazy. He’ll knock stuff over!” she said admiringly.
In a recent magazine campaign, Kimora was photographed in her mansion as a you-can’t-touch-this chatelaine attended by an array of servants. It got people’s attention. “The message is: I’m rich and you’re not,” says Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s fashion critic. “I found the ads extraordinarily offensive. It’s a very calculated ‘look at all the stuff I have’ with the domestics, and the kids are just another possession.”
But plenty of designers have starred in their own ads, including Calvin, Giorgio, Donna, Donatella, and Ralph. “It makes people feel like they’re more a part of your life,” said Kimora. “And my life is so crazy and so over-the-top, an E! True Hollywood Story, except without being tragic.”
Kimora and Russell bought the house, not far from where Richard Nixon lived out his last days, from Arnold Simon, who used to manufacture Baby Phat jeans. “Arnie came to me and said, ‘You know, your wife wants my house,’ ” says Russell, who was happy in his Liberty Street loft. But Kimora’s kids would grow up with the yard she didn’t have. The day after Tony Shafrazi’s gallery removed all of Russell’s art to Saddle River, terrorists removed the World Trade Center next door. Today, the apartment is condemned. Wyclef Jean, Ja Rule, and the Reverend Run are some of the people they now run into at the local gas station in Jersey.
Daughter Aoki didn’t want to take a bath, and Kimora swung the 11⁄2-year-old up on her hip. “Really, it’s hard being a teenage mother. That’s why they say you should wait until you’re old enough, and maybe I wasn’t old enough for you two,” Kimora said playfully. “When they get older, I may get a tutor on the road.” She won’t separate from her children, she said, and if she’s gone for any length of time, the animals hop on the Gulfstream, too.
Aoki’s tears turned into long sighs. Kimora is friendly with half-Japanese model Devon Aoki, who scored enviable contracts with Chanel and Versace. Kimora not only hired her for a Baby Phat ad campaign, she also snatched up her manager. “But I didn’t name my daughter after her,” Kimora said, “though maybe subliminally, subconsciously it happened.”
Kimora headed into her favorite room, a walk-in closet with security cameras ogling the shoes like jewel-encrusted barges, the bowls of Halloweeny candy, the Tony snared for that Def Poetry Jam producer credit. A young man appeared, Kimora’s queer eye, she said, a makeup artist who knows altogether too much about her pumps. “These are Giuseppe Zanotti,” he said, grabbing one pair, “and she had these before Beyoncé did in her video.” Kimora considered the fistfuls of jewelry locked up in the safe, and how she was always buying these gifts for herself. Russell just wasn’t that kind of guy, she said. She looked sad.
An SUV grumbled to a halt outside, and Russell Simmons climbed out of the backseat. “Hi, hubby!”
Russell was fasting, penance for paella eaten on vacation with the guys in the Dominican Republic. He went to grab several baby bottles filled with scary-looking green stuff out of the fridge. He slid a glass over to Kimora. She couldn’t imagine how anyone could drink that stuff, even if it was in a Tiffany glass.
Nailed atop the grand sweep of the staircase is an ancient little sign: COLORED WAITING ROOM. Russell talked about the “arrogance of white men” who couldn’t imagine the future of urban clothing and music. “If I was a white company run by a white guy in Greenwich—if I was Tommy—it wouldn’t have taken me eleven years to sell it,” said Russell. His first backers were the “S.Y.’s,” as he calls them, with the greatest affection: a tight-knit group of Syrian Jews who live on Ocean Parkway. Inner-city students who take class trips to his office see mostly Jews and black Muslims working in perfect harmony, he said.
The S on the Neverlandish gates outside stands for samadhi, a state of blissful union. “The whole thing about living in a house like this,” said Kimora, “is being able to share it with your family. Have tons of kids! Have tons of animals!” A giant topiary giraffe at the end of her cobbled driveway is the last thing Kimora sees when she heads out into the world in her Bentley. And it will never disappear from her rearview mirror.