Hands down, Aoki Lee Simmons is one of the coolest 19 year-olds out there. Aside from having an OG supermodel for a mother, Simmons is making a name for herself all on her own. From modeling in a history making haute couture show over the summer to now gearing up of her junior year at Harvard, there’s nothing that’ll stop her from doing what she wants to do. And right now, it’s shoes.
The young model has just released her first brand partnership with JustFab. If you’re pretty aquatinted with shoes, then you’ve definitely have heard of the fashion brand; what you might not have known that the shoe—and now clothing company was originally founded by Simmons mother Kimora Lee. With the brand celebrating it’s ten year anniversary, they teamed up with Simmons to have a full-circle the launch of her Reboot Collection. “It’s been such a great experience,” Simmons shared with NYLON via Zoom. “I’ve been working on Baby Phat for many years but designing shoes has been really new for me.”
For Simmons it’s not about the most happening or current trends; it’s about classic and timeless style, but most importantly comfort. “I love how much we were able to alter and edit the comfort level,” she shares. “You can draw and conceptualize a shoe from an older collection but comfort is so often looked over, and I’m shocked because we do crazy stuff today.”
What was your relationship like with fashion as a child?
I have to be honest, it was very non-existent. I was a nerdy kid, and I still am pretty nerdy. I used to wear boy’s cargo shorts so the fashion wasn’t really there. I started rock climbing and engineering and I would wear cargo shorts with bolt cutters in the pockets.
For me, fashion started more in high school and college. I started branching out and seeing that fashion can be whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t always mean being the most glammed up or on trend. It can also mean being simple and timeless. It can also mean bringing your bolt cutters if you have to.
How does that translate to your approach now?
Definitely just staying true to myself is the easiest one. I don’t wear anything that I don’t want to wear. I don’t feel pressure to try trends that I don’t like. There are things out there that I just don’t like. I’ve discovered there are a lot of things that I do like and leaning into those without feeling any pressure to look like anyone else or try something new all the time. Just honoring myself as opposed to ‘oh I have to wear or try that.’
With your new brand partnership with JustFab, you're essentially filling in your mother's footsteps. How does it feel to be the new voice to help reboot such a classic brand?
It’s been a great experience. It’s been really exciting and has felt very much like a nice milestone that I could try to carry a new line and launch on my own. My mom’s energy and legacy is there, but it is my own project so she wasn’t really involved besides offering advice.
It was really nice to have the confidence of others to be able to do this on my own. I really appreciated the opportunity to flex my creative muscles and they were really open. I love the ‘90s and simple aesthetics, which comes through a lot. They were really open to letting me really draw the mood board together and really dig deep into whatever influences I like. I’m not going to make something that I wouldn’t wear and they were very open to that.
You're working quite a bit right now in the fashion world. You walked in the Pyer Moss Couture show in back July, what was that experience like?
That was just the best experience ever. Everything was thrilling and such a huge treat, plus I also learned so much about adult modeling. When I was a kid, it was very much like ‘Are Ming and Aoki hungry, are the girls okay? Keep the girls in their own dressing rooms’ and so when you’re an adult at a show getting paid to do a job, it’s not like that.
The show was really great but also very nerve wracking. It was more nerve wracking than my college interviews. I was pretty freaked out. I meditated in the line before I had to go out, but the experience was wonderful. I got off the runway and I cried, then I laughed. It was a huge rush of emotions.
What are some of your future next steps?
I definitely plan on doing more runway shows and going to castings. I love castings, I think they’re great. I don’t want to be that model who has a reputation or image of not going to the casting. I go and wait in the long line with a number on my shirt because I think it’s important to get every taste of the experience. My mom is really big on that. When she started, she was just 13 and no one was looking out or helping her so she was very much pushing me to be independent too.
I’ve had a bit of rejection in modeling and it’s made me stronger and has prepared me for other things. I look forward to more positive things and more lessons—I call them lessons and not rejections.
How do you describe your personal style? And how does the new collection fit?
My personal style is very simple and classic with a trendy youthful twist. A great example is that I just got my dream watch for my birthday and it’s Jackie Kennedy’s watch. That’s kind of the energy I possess. I try to keep it youthful with a touch of french inspirations. I went to boarding school in Europe so I’m really influenced by French style.
I like a lot of neutral and strong colors. My favorite colors are definitely navy blue, cream, white, tan, jewel tones are strong, forest green, and crimson. I don’t really like to wear any funky colors, I never wear neons they can just leave me alone haha. So with that being said all of the shoes fit into my personal style. I designed it that way, it’s a little bit selfish of me, but hey, I can do that. It kind of matches and fits into what I wear now.
You're apart of the new generation of fashion — where would you like to see the industry going in the future?
I think the great thing about fashion is that it inspires passion in every generation. Even though things constantly change, the passion that fashion inspires in young people never changes. There is no one as passionate as young people who want to be fashion writers or designers, they really go for it. There will always be a lot of judgement about whether or not it's a long term career or if it’ll make you a lot of money, but there’s no one who’s going to say I don’t care more than those in fashion. A lot of them are more driven than Harvard students; they really know what they want, and I think that’s great.