Back in the early 2000s, when powder blue velour suits were a sign of fashion supremacy, emerged a brand that would shape streetwear and bring it to the forefront of fashion. Kimora Lee Simmons created Baby Phat — an extension of her then-husband’s popular brand Phat Farm. The curvy stitched cat on the back of our jeans became an iconic symbol for women’s fashion and influenced fashion houses to be more than just brands – but lifestyles.
Baby Phat recently announced they’re return (after a short run in Forever 21) with a social media commercial featuring a fancy feline wearing the iconic Baby Phat logo on a gold link chain. The unexpected digital spot commanded the attention of fashion enthusiasts whose thirst for trends are fueled by nostalgia. With a comeback seemingly abloom, we’re looking back at Baby Phats’ reign over the runway, music videos and the psyche of everyday woman who felt luxurious in streetwear.
Combined with brilliant marketing — Kimora Lee Simmons would gift her celebrity friends (Lil’ Kim, Naomi Campbell) with Baby Phat apparel and feature her them in high-production fashion shows and appearances that established her as a clothing architect like in Ginuwine 2003 hit “In Those Jeans” — established the brand as a fashion force. The front row of her shows were filled with hip-hop’s hottest acts.
Even the way she chose models to walk in her shows was different. Baby Phat’s massive runway shows were labeled the “hottest ticket in town” by and a bold bullet on the resume of any model who strut their best catwalk wearing the cat.
“It’s very deliberate,” she told the New York Daily News in 2009. “It includes people who are sometimes forgotten but are great models – they have fierce walks and bodies, strong girls, but they might sometimes be a size bigger than the other one who was a size zero. They have more ‘hip,’ more color, more bang to their personality. It’s what I represent culturally in society: all colors, all women, all shapes and sizes.”
The signature cat had become an indicator of style and street cred evolving way passed the original t-shirts that featured Baby Phat embossed on the front. Kimora Lee expanded the brand into accessories, fragrance, lingerie and jewelry. Within one year between 2001 and 2002, Baby Phat had grown exponentially from $30 million in revenue to $265 million.
All of which was Kimora’s vision. “I always strived to represent my audience,” she told The Fader in 2017 in an interview while reflecting Baby Phat’s legacy. “Back then, I called Baby Phat ‘aspirational’ because you could mix the high luxury with everyday streetwear but still, fashion is about that aspiration.”
Kimora sought to make her line all-encompassing for the everyday woman. Fenty Beauty seems to be stepping in the stiletto prints where Baby Phat left off — combining urban wear with affordable luxury. Lee relaunched Baby Phat in 2019 in collaboration with Forever 21.
“I did expect [Baby Phat’s sexy style to come back],” she told Page Six around the launch. “Fashion is so cyclical. I love being a part of this life cycle from the O.G. Baby Phat to our new, reinvented, modern-take on the brand.”
Baby Phat continues to be a beloved brand and marker of a time when urban fashion thrived more that Italian and French brands. When the Rocawears, FUBUs and Phat Farms ruled Black fashion. For that, it will always be legendary.