As we gear up for the momentous fashion occasion that is May 1st, many are beginning to anticipate what will come of the 2023 Met Gala. This year’s theme, ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,’ celebrates the late designer Karl Lagerfeld (known for his tenure at Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous line). The German designer left an incredible impact on fashion globally, and the evening will be in remembrance of just that. But it’s not just the Met Gala paying homage to Lagerfeld’s enduring legacy. The May 2023 cover of Vogue features ten models that he cherished during his golden years in collaboration with ten designers who paid their respects to the departed creative director.
The likes of design titans like Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Thom Browne, Donatella Versace, Jun Takahashi of Undercover, Christopher John Rogers, John Galliano for Maison Margiela, Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, etc. conceptualized looks inspired by Karl’s lifework. All showcased by iconic models such as Anok Yai, Shalom Harlow, Kendall Jenner, Liu Wen, Adut Akech, Natalia Vodianova, Naomi Campbell, Amber Valletta, Gigi Hadid, and Devon Aoki — even Lagerfeld’s beloved cat Choupette (and heiress) was caressed alongside Campbell in the photo shoot. While the construction backdrop of Paris’ Grand Palais (long the venue for Lagerfeld’s elaborate Chanel shows) was shot stunningly in joint with these prolific designers and models, many couldn’t shake the feeling that something (more like someone) was missing.
The notable absence on the cover was that of 90s supermodel Kimora Lee Simmons: Lagerfeld’s Chanel muse and his youngest Chanel bride. Simmons, a model and fashion designer, had a close relationship with the late Lagerfeld and was just 13 years old when he discovered her at a modeling competition in Paris. He was immediately drawn to her unique appearance and invited her to become one of his muses, often featuring her in his Chanel campaigns and as the youngest Chanel Haute Couture bride (it’s a tradition for the closing look in a couture collection to be a wedding gown). And in 1998, Lagerfeld even designed Simmons’ wedding dress.
Simmon’s mentor-muse relationship with the designer was described in a Teen Vogue article as transformative. Shortly after his passing, she told the publication, “He made me who I am today. As a young teenager, he pulled me out of a small town in the Midwest and gave me wings to fly…[He] saw things in a radically different way than other designers who weren’t willing to risk putting a multi-ethnic girl on the Parisian runway…Karl made me a better model, designer, creative director, and mother, and I am forever indebted to him, like so many.”
Simmons dominated the fashion world in the 90s, appearing in campaigns for Versace, Calvin Klein, and Armani. She also graced the covers of countless magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. In addition to her successful modeling career, in 1999, Simmons established her fashion line, Baby Phat, which quickly became a household name — and has recently made a resurgence due to the industry’s current focus on y2k fashion.
Along with her role as a woman of color in a predominantly white industry, she was one of the original trailblazers who broke barriers and achieved international success in the 1990s and early 2000s. She made it a point to use her platform to advocate for greater diversity in the fashion industry and to promote a more inclusive definition of beauty. Simmons’ impact on the fashion industry is undeniable, but her omission from the tribute cover of the late designer is sparking controversy amongst fashion enthusiasts — and with good reason.
The fashion industry has a long-standing history of underrepresentation and erasure, especially when it comes to women of color. The failure to include Kimora Lee Simmons on the cover, despite her status as a prominent figure in the industry and her close relationship with Lagerfeld, is a glaring example of this problem. Daughter and model Aoki Lee Simmons took to her Instagram to give her mother her just-due flowers. She captioned a carousel of tender photos with her mother and Lagerfeld with “Let us not forget the youngest Chanel bride, Karl muse and his “face of the 21st century” at age 13, straight from the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a single mother and first gen immigrant, the maker of the wayyy! I’m always so proud of you, mom!”
ESSENCE reached out to Simmons on her feelings and thoughts of being left off the cover, and in typical Taurus fashion, she humbly replied, “I’m not offended by it. People around me have mentioned it. They may be offended for various reasons, which I can understand. To be mentioned at all in the presence of such greatness continues to be a great honor. It was a monumental decade of my life. So much of what I am and have done can be attributed to him [Lagerfeld]. I love that man so much.”
One thing is for certain, Kimora will always get her flowers over here.