Baby Phat: American Apparel Brand
Baby Phat was established by Kimora Lee Simmons and Russell Simmons to celebrate black culture on the runways. Hip-hop artists like Lil Kim would often mix with fashion icons at Baby Phat fashion shows.
Baby Phat’s revival is making waves. Unlike most urban streetwear brands, it focuses specifically on female customers – something most urban streetwear labels fail to do.
Kimora Lee Simmons
Kimora Lee Simmons has become one of the most well-known names in fashion and with good reason. Starting her career with exclusive Chanel contracts before marrying hip hop producer Russell Simmons in 1998 – something which cemented her place as co-founder of Baby Phat – has cemented Kimora into fashion history as a global force.
After her modeling career faded, Simmons found herself exhausted by its repetitive nature. Following in her husband’s footsteps and inspired by his clothing line, she started designing and producing apparel under her brand called Baby Phat – an acronym of Fabulousity (another play on words).
Simmons was revered for her unmistakably feminine aesthetic. Her designs for dresses, bodysuits, and jeans blended streetwear and luxury fashion elements, years before the rise of high fashion collaborations like those spearheaded by LV x Supreme or Virgil Abloh took place.
Her distinctively feminine approach to design helped usher in a new era of women’s fashion, but what set her apart was her unabashed embrace of black culture and its aesthetics.
Baby Phat was one of the pioneers to incorporate hip hop and urban music trends into its collections, from its 90s-inspired logos and oversized letters, asymmetrical cuts, and Siamese cat prints, Baby Phat became the ultimate intersection between style and music, finding its way into every girl’s closet who aspired to shine like a star on any stage.
Baby Phat was at its height during this decade, expanding its lineup into shoes and accessories as well as celebrity perfume endorsements. But as time progressed, nostalgia set in and Baby Phat began its decline.
Simmons remains dedicated to the Baby Phat brand that launched her into the design, however. On International Women’s Day 2019, she announced she purchased back its name rights and would relaunch it as a woman-led venture.
Simmons maintains her reality television show called Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane which airs on Style Network. In addition, she has appeared as a model in numerous music videos like Ginuwine’s “In Those Jeans” and Usher’s “Nice & Slow.”
Women of Color
Baby Phat made its debut at New York Fashion Week in 2000 with velvet tracksuits and tees emblazoned with its iconic cat logo that quickly made an impactful statement at fashion week. As millions of Black women and girls were drawn in by this luxurious take on streetwear that honored hip-hop’s affinity for monograms, opulence, and excess, Baby Phat quickly established itself as an icon.
On International Women’s Day 2019, Baby Phat was back with an affordable 18-piece collection from Forever 21 in collaboration. This affordable collection includes its iconic velour tracksuits, oversized hoodies, and puffer jackets; iconic staples that have become part of modern wardrobes. Though its appearance differs slightly from when the brand first debuted back in the early 2000s, Baby Phat still retains its signature “ghetto fabulous” aesthetic to represent women of color across different generations; from millennials and Gen Z alike.
Simmons is using her position as the face of the brand to include both daughters Ming and Aoki in the campaign to show that it is inclusive for women of all ages and sizes. To support that message, Simmons hires diverse models as models for her latest creations Janice Combs from plus size model agency Janice Model Management proudly walks down the runway wearing leopard print slips with heels!
Baby Phat has made significant strides to expand beyond clothing with the recent relaunch of its Lingerie and Fragrance lines, as well as joining forces with Coty to enter into beauty offerings. This expansion marks an important shift as it represents that they have moved into luxury spaces – where representation has often been an obstacle.
Simmons took her fashion line a step further by creating what she called “black women’s high fashion line” during Baby Phat’s peak years in the early 2000s. This represented a break with expectations that streetwear and hip-hop apparel were only intended for male consumers; Simmons showcased Black and Brown models on her runways, honoring beauty beyond Europe’s standards of youth and thinness.
While modern brands like Fashion Nova rely on Black models’ curves to sell bodycon silhouettes, Baby Phat is making waves again by celebrating diversity within today’s female consumer base with their authentic, aspirational, and unapologetic line of apparel.
Baby Phat was an icon of fashion heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Simmons was an innovator, designing feminine silhouettes that showed off curves while emphasizing femininity; Missy Elliot, Lil Kim, and Aaliyah all donned her garments; its runway shows provided a celebration of black culture.
Simmons was known for her elegant clothing lines and stylish music videos to accompany them. A pioneer in her use of social media to market her brand and cultivate celebrity followers, Simmons often used Instagram to share personal posts as well as to showcase new lines she was offering – not to mention being the first major designer ever featured on Style Network television programming!
Baby Phat was one of the first companies in its space to feature black models in all marketing campaigns and advertisements geared toward Black audiences, helping normalize black models on runway shows.
Baby Phat was at its most memorable during its early 2000s peak. Aaliyah made headlines as the original midriff-flosser while legendary rapper Lil Kim modeled pieces from their lingerie collection at Baby Phat runway shows, along with Janice Combs (Puff Daddy’s mom) confidently leading two dogs down the runway while wearing a satin slip dress and extra floor-length fur coat! This period also saw Janice Combs proudly showing her two puppies on stage wearing both of these pieces!
Baby Phat’s relaunch comes at the perfect time, as its iconic cursive logo and velour tracksuits have found favor with Gen Z. Additionally, its debut coincides with an upsurge in interest for nostalgic fashion from the ’90s which has permeated all aspects of the industry.
Baby Phat’s recent comeback since Kellwood sold them may have something to do with taking advantage of nostalgia trends and younger audiences being interested in its legacy.
Baby Phat’s Marketing Strategies
Baby Phat was relaunched this summer through retail giant Forever 21 with similar high fashion aesthetics and ghetto chic appeal that first made the brand renowned, available up to size 4X. The launch is a testament to Simmons (now Leissner), who established and nurtured it over two decades ago; Leissner continues carrying that torch forward through her beauty empire (which she built with Ming Lee and Aoki), or through activism in support of women of color within fashion.
Baby Phat was established as the womenswear counterpart to Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm in 1999, helping shape an era of style. Famous for its iconic velour tracksuits and monogram bubble coats adorned with monogramming, Baby Phat capitalized on hip-hop culture’s affinity for monogramming and opulence to become a must-have among fashionable women who wanted their outfits to make a statement. From runway shows to licensing agreements such as its Rush Visa card licensing deal – Baby Phat was synonymous with brand culture!
Baby Phat’s iconic runway shows were grand cultural spectacles, drawing both celebrities and everyday people from across the country to Radio City Music Hall for these spectacles that showcased glitz and glamour through fashion.
Simmons was a tastemaker who opened people’s eyes to how women can look fabulous beyond high fashion – from plush tracksuits and cropped puffer jackets, skinny jeans with curve-hugging stretch, to flannel shirts swathed in leopard prints. Simmons was revolutionary during an era when many believed black women couldn’t be “glamorous” outside of haute fashion.
Now that Y2K fashion has returned, brands like Baby Phat are reaping the rewards of smart marketing strategies. Instead of simply releasing an outdated collection that would likely go ignored by most customers, Baby Phat is targeting retailers such as Forever 21 and Macy’s that cater to millennials and Gen Z who may have not worn this style before but are excited by its revival.