5 questions with...

Aoki Lee Simmons Is Just Getting Started

Photo: Gregory Harris for Tommy Hilfiger

Aoki Lee Simmons was rushing to a fitting. “I still have extensions to take out, but, you know, we’re here,” said the 19-year-old model and daughter of Kimora Lee Simmons and Russell Simmons as she was taking a break from her Harvard classes to walk at New York Fashion Week. That week, she had been in the Sergio Hudson show as well as the one for Kim Shui, where there was a dreaded flight of marble stairs: “I am very humbled, in that I have no balance and I’m very aware.” Her mother, a former model herself, was in the front row. “I basically had no top on, and I was waiting for my mom to say something,” Simmons said.“ I came out, and she was like, ‘I’m glad you didn’t fall on the stairs. And I think it’s a tasteful little top.’”

Simmons also stars in the latest Tommy Hilfiger campaign. “I love a good layer moment because I’m anemic, so I can control my temperature that way,” she said of her campaign look. “It’s lots of very collegiate layering. It reminded me of what I thought I’d be wearing at Harvard. I was wrong.” What does she wear to class instead? “A full Baby Phat sweat suit.”

At a dinner to celebrate the campaign, she called out to her friend Natalia Bryant. “I’ve been texting you,” she said across a bannister at the home of a $100 caviar potato, the Nines. We caught up with Simmons and chatted about her classes, the campaign, and how her mom coaches her through Fashion Week.

What does it feel like to walk in a fashion show?
I black out, so I have no idea what’s going on. I just will be thinking about it so much and then I get out there and I have no idea what happened until I see the video later. I’m like, I could have been great; I could have been awful. One of my first bigger shows was Pyer Moss. And they had very, very bright lights, and it was outdoors. It rained.

You suddenly think you’ll fall even though you don’t just fall walking in day-to-day life. Because you’re thinking about walking and trying to walk better, you’re more likely to mess up and fall a little bit. Only recently I’ve noticed the runway seems to have gotten longer.

Lee Simmons in the Tommy Hilfiger campaign. Photo: Gregory Harris for Tommy Hilfiger

I’ve heard of putting one foot in front of the other. And not to swing your arms too much. Do you have a signature walk?
I would like to be someone who has a signature walk, but each runway still feels really new. I’d like to have a Gisele-like walk. She really puts her legs forward. I’m a very long-limbed person, and she keeps her arms behind her. I have very, very weird Spider-Man arms, so I put them behind me and then I try to lead with my legs. I have very long legs.

Miss J said to me for the Tommy show, when it was raining, “Take a few steps. See if you’re scared. If it feels sturdy, then speed up or jazz it up. You can start slow.” You’re never going as slow as you think you are. In fact, you are probably going too fast. And then, once I get going and know I’m not going to fall, I’ll think, Okay. Cross legs, longer strides, shoulders back. 
At Sergio Hudson, I walked by my mom and she yelled, “Shoulders!” And that threw me off. So I put them back. And then at Kim Shui yesterday, I walked by her and heard “Both good.” So we went from shoulders to good, and that was promising.

Tell me about your new Tommy Hilfiger campaign.
I’ve been a big Tommy Hilfiger fan my whole life. I’m a big Aaliyah fan. So, like her, I used to want to wear the Tommy sports bras that were cool — with the brand name on it and the matching underwear. My mom was like, “Why are you trying to show your underwear? Who cares what’s written on it?” And I was like, “It’s just cool. You don’t get it.” So now I get to wear a sports bra with a Tommy logo, and I’m very excited. The campaign is a lot of fun, bright prep colors. They have a very cute tank top with a little Tommy flag on it that I’m very into. Lots of baggy, low-rise jeans.

Lee Simmons in the Hilfiger campaign. Photo: Gregory Harris for Tommy Hilfiger

You’ve said before, and I understand that it’s probably not all professors at Harvard, that some were critical of your modeling. Why do you think that was?
I’d definitely like to reiterate that I did not bash my Harvard professors. They’re wonderful. A lot of them are. The older ones, actually, are comfortable in their professorship, and they’re longtimers in academia. They’re like, “Go explore. Come back, go to grad school later — do whatever.” Very encouraging.

But I think sometimes with modeling, it can be a little bit of sexism. I think industries dominated by women are just not always considered with the same merits. There is a sociologist, Ashley Mears, who I love. She wrote a book called Pricing Beauty. I think people look at it as less than because there’s a lot of young women, a lot of creativity. And for some reason, people can’t connect that with an actual industry where people have real jobs.

Okay, last wild-card question. You are calling an UberXL and can invite anyone to come with you. Who is in your car?
Diana Ross. I was her for Halloween. You can look that up because it is a terrible costume. Ming made it. It was a hot mess. Pat Cleveland, because someone told me that I look like her, and that really changed my life. I love her walk. I feel like she was really feeling every garment she wore. And, lastly, Dee Hilfiger. She’s known my parents — and me since I was younger. But I recently learned, doing more work with Tommy Hilfiger’s office, that she was a model while in school. Her parents were always telling her to focus on school until she went to Japan and broke out on her own and was like, “Guys, look — it’s actually a great way to flex my creative muscles and make money.” I relate to that. She’s killing it.

Aoki Lee Simmons Is Just Getting Started