Simmons was born in St. Louis, Missouri and is of Asian and African American descent. Although her mother, Joanne Perkins, was born in Korea, she is Japanese. Perkins was adopted by an American serviceman during the Korean War and she now goes by her own mother’s Japanese name, Kyoko. Her father, Vernon Whitlock Jr., is African American. He has worked as a Federal Marshal, a Social Security Administrator, and a barber in St. Louis.
Growing up in the northern St. Louis suburb of Florissant, Missouri, Simmons was the target of schoolyard bullying and teasing, because of her height (she was 5 feet, 10 inches tall by the time she was 10 years old) and mixed ancestry. To help Simmons, her mother enrolled her in a modeling class when she was eleven years old. Two years later she was discovered by Marie-Christine Kollock (a representative for seminal Paris Agency Glamour) at a Model Search in St. Louis (organized by Kay Mitchell) and sent to Paris. Simmons was awarded an exclusive modeling contract with Chanel and just after her thirteenth birthday, went to work under the tutelage of famed Chanel designer, Karl Lagerfeld.
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Simmons has appeared in small roles in television and films including Beauty Shop along with Queen Latifah and Waist Deep. She has also appeared in music videos for Ginuwine, Usher, and made a brief appearance as one of the several beautiful women surrounding the police chief in the 2000 film, Little Nicky. In 2003, Simmons signed on as one of the judges on America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 1, and it was reported Simmons may return to the judging panel for Cycle 14. She has also been a co-host of Sony Television’s syndicated talk show Life & Style.
On August 5, 2007 her reality TV show premiered on Style Network. Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane chronicles her daily life and routine, along with her relationship with her two daughters Ming Lee and Aoki Lee Simmons. It now re-airs on E! Entertainment Television. Season two premiered on the Style network on April 20, 2008.
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