Baby Phat: Kimora Lee's Dream, A Cultural Phenomenon

Baby Phat is looking to return to its former glory this decade.

BYDemi Phillips
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Olympus Fashion Week Fall 2004 - Baby Phat - After Party

In the 2000s, Kimora Lee had the fashion industry on lock with her fashion brand, Baby Phat. Her seamless transition from stunning model to fashion mogul remains an essential story in fashion history. It’s not news that the brand has lost much momentum since the 2010s rolled in. However, Baby Phat remains Kimora Lee’s passion project. The brand was once a cultural phenomenon in the 2000s and had a longstanding impact on the fashion industry. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Kimora is set to return Baby Phat to its former glory sooner rather than later.

Baby Phat originated as an extension of the Phat Farm label established by Lee’s ex-husband, Russell Simmons, in 1992. Simmons, a renowned figure in the Hip Hop stratosphere, co-founded Def Jam Recordings. He later ventured into the fashion world with Phat Farm, catering primarily to men’s urban fashion.

Baby Phat was first explored in 1993, just a year after Phat Farm started. At the time, the brand was in its very early stages and only offered a limited variety of women’s T-shirts. By the mid-'90s, the production and development of Baby Phat designs was put on hold until further notice. Soon after, Russell Simmons partnered with Turbo Sportswear, forming the American Design Group (ADG). Following this partnership, the license for Phat Farm apparel was awarded to ADG. Eventually, in 1998, ADG decided to resume the development of Baby Phat, and the brand was relaunched soon after. 

Kimora Lee Steps In

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 15: Designer Kimora Lee Simmons with children (L-R) Aoki Lee, Kenzo Lee Hounsou and Ming Lee on the runway at the Baby Phat & KLS Collection Spring 2010 fashion show at Roseland Ballroom on September 15, 2009 in New York, New York. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

In 1998, Kimora Lee was shown a new prototype of a women’s t-shirt from Phat Farm. Lee thought the shirt was disappointing and told her then-husband that she “would never wear this.” She described the prototype as “very athletic and basic, scaled-down pieces of what a guy would wear.” However, she realized she could help take the brand to the next level with her fashion experience and great eye for design. Soon after, Kimora Lee decided to take on the designer and creative director role of Baby Phat. In addition, Lee went on to create a collection of designs she saw fit to be worn by women. By the following year, 1999, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons launched.

The Rise Of Baby Phat

After launching, Baby Phat quickly gained popularity for its distinctive style. More importantly, the brand became a hit within the Hip Hop community. Characterized by flashy designs, rhinestones, animal prints, and the iconic cat logo of the brand, Baby Phat had great appeal. The brand’s aesthetic mirrored the Hip Hop culture of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and it soon became synonymous with urban glamor. 

Under Kimora Lee’s watchful eye, Baby Phat became a trailblazer in the urban fashion scene. It appealed to many celebrities, including Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, Mary J. Blige, and Aaliyah. Moreover, Baby Phat was also sought after by fashion enthusiasts, fans of Hip Hop, and young women alike. Over the next few years, the brand became a billion-dollar venture. 

The Departure Of Kimora Lee

In 2004, The Kellwood Company, a major fashion manufacturer, acquired Baby Phat. Kellwood decided to keep Kimora Lee in her position as president and creative director. Lee’s contract ended in 2010, and she subsequently left, but she retained ownership of all licensing rights to her collections. Although sales had begun to drop by the late 2000s, Kimora Lee’s exit made them plummet even harder. As time went by, the brand slowly faded from mainstream fashion markets and public consciousness.

The Return Of Baby Phat

Following years of decline, Baby Phat made a grand comeback in 2019 after Kimora Lee announced she had reacquired the brand. She relaunched soon after, and the brand has steadily risen since then. Lee recently announced a new 2023 collection that went on sale on September 29. In this new fall collection, Kimora Lee has gone “back to the basics,” being heavily inspired by the Y2K fashion she’s a pioneer of.

In an exclusive interview with People, Lee referred to the collection as “kind of a relaunch.” She further stated,  “I just think because of everything we've been through, throughout COVID and everything, it seems like your life is always a relaunch every time you give birth to a different iteration of, you know, your baby, which this is.” The fall collection is priced between $50 and $100 and is now exclusively available on Babyphat.com.

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