Aoki Lee Simmons on Beauty Tips from Mom and Walking Pyer Moss
Two weeks ago, Aoki Lee Simmons was lining up backstage at Pyer Moss’ haute couture show, waiting to walk the catwalk. It was her very first solo fashion show, rather than flanked by her mother, Kimora Lee Simmons, and older sister Ming Lee Simmons, which she did for Kimora Lee’s label Baby Phat. Aoki Lee has spent most of his 18 years involved with the pioneering women’s streetwear brand, from introductions at age four to commercials for Baby Phat. Now she’s establishing her own career as a model, making her debut at Pyer Moss and with a list of campaigns for upcoming beauty and fashion brands. In her Beauty Notes interview, Aoki Lee, who is finishing her freshman year at Harvard University and splits her time between Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City, discusses beauty products that keep her skin glowing and ready for the camera, and its journey towards self-acceptance.
Behind the scenes at the Pyer Moss show, did you talk to hairstylists and makeup artists about their processes and inspirations?
Yes. The makeup artist was Mali Magic, who is pretty high up at Bobbi Brown. I saw an interview she did in which she talked about wanting to enhance the beauty of black women, and black women in the 90s were particularly part of the inspiration at Pyer Moss. I loved how the hair choices for the show also aggressively leaned on blackness and celebrated black hair: you had baby hair, you had braids, you had natural textures. And not just on the track, but also behind the scenes. There was a thermal protector, there was careful disentangling, there was a lot of care that you don’t always get on set. Usually on parades they take the black girl and just say, “Put her in a bun. Do it right. There isn’t always someone who knows curly hair or someone who cares about your curl pattern.
Although this is the first solo show you’ve been to, you’ve been on the catwalks for many years. What are your earliest memories of fashion shows?
Definitely behind the scenes at Baby Phat when I was four or five. For these shows, Ming and I were allowed to wear tinted lip gloss, get some heat curls, maybe wear a slightly heeled shoe. It was always an exciting event behind the scenes: a lot of fun, a lot of stuff, very eventful. After Pyer Moss was delayed Thursday night, I was like, I still have two super anxious days of waiting for the show? Shit. And then I remembered how much I loved going to a show. When I was three or four, I was coming down the track, twirling, hopping, shaking my hair. There were no nerves. I thought, let’s tap into that energy. It’s meant to be fun, you’re meant to enjoy it. It made me feel better and I felt ready. I was still very nervous, but I thought to myself, “Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved the podium. And you have to remember her and honor her.
What is your beauty philosophy?
I don’t want to look too pick me-ish, but I’m asking for very little maintenance. I spent a lot of time growing up in France and Switzerland – I was educated in Europe – and there is a more natural approach to beauty there. The full, shapely and powdery face is not considered in good taste in France. So I grew up with it – people call it the French girl style, but I’m actually just lazy. My main focus is on skin care, because good skin care allows any French girl to be free, especially as a model – you should always wear foundation and makeup if your skin is bad.
You often post hair care articles on social media. How would you describe your personal hair journey?
While in Bali visiting my father a few years ago, I met one of his model friends. She pulled me aside and said, “Honey, you got a white girl’s haircut. You cut and take care of your hair like all your white friends from school. You don’t know what you are doing. I finally went to a hair stylist specializing in curls and spent two hours there researching my hair; he cut it loop by loop. We talked about finger combing, all the products to use and what to avoid.
Which hair products have you gone to since your visit to the hairdresser?
I like Innersense and Briogeo. For my recent trip to New York for Pyer Moss, I brought the four Briogeo products that I love: shampoo, conditioner, leave-in and mousse. If I’m at home, I like to use Innersense Cream Hairbath Shampoo, Dry Hair Conditioner, Volume Gel, and I Create Hold Gel. When I don’t have my beautiful products, I like to get Mielle Honey and Ginger styling gel from Amazon. I liked Shea Moisture and that kind of stuff a lot, but it’s pretty heavy. I’ve learned that you want to release curls from heaviness – adding a ton of oil and weight is one way to meet beauty standards. It makes your hair hang down to look more, you know, “professional” and “nice”. But really, you want your curls to be expressed to the fullest.
Do you use the Curly Girl method, which limits the use of shampoo?
I shampoo my hair once a week. But maybe it’s just a lazy thing, not a smart thing, knowing my pattern of curls.
Where do you like to buy beauty products?
I receive a lot of my products from my sister and my mother as junk. They’re like, “I didn’t like that.” And I’m like, “This is a really good bottle of hair cream. I’ll take it.”
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, on the beauty side?
I give myself a facial massage. I’ll be in bed, turn around and press my two fingers clockwise on the bridge of my nose and along my forehead. It is a lymphatic drainage technique. If I have a lot of time, I’ll start to pinch down my jaw, pinch down my cheek. I’m really into lymphatic drainage, facial massage, and gua sha, which is very popular right now, but I’ve always been doing it. Next, I’m going to do yoga in bed: I’m going to bring my knees to my chest for Happy Baby, roll over on my lower back, and do a little twist.
Who taught you lymphatic drainage?
My mother, my grandmother and the Internet. I just felt myself growing up, I had a very round face. I still do. I thought my face was still swollen, what can I do to fix it?
Is your grandmother passionate about beauty?
She is not. She’s no longer my mother. My grandmother is a very classy lady, though – she’s the type to perm and roll her hair, and she wears kitten heels. She’s more of a traditional beauty, and my mom is more modern. My grandmother said to me: “Have you styled your hair for the week?” and I say to myself: “Do I have what, grandmother?” No, no, I didn’t. “Did you bring a slip? “No, I didn’t bring a flyer, Grandma.”
What’s the best beauty advice you’ve ever received from your mom?
Definitely to adopt the features you have. When I was younger, I was looking for techniques to achieve a more Eurocentric standard of beauty, like using a white line under your eyes to make them look wider. My mother said to me, “Why? You are Asian, you have smaller eyes, be proud of that. She encouraged me a lot to stop hiding my natural features. She’s big on curls, she says, “Keep them curly, keep them free, that makes you unique.” The heat does not damage your hair.
What about the best tip you’ve found on the set?
I have so many, because hair and makeup take a long time. You will be there for two hours, three hours, four hours, so you have to start talking and making friends. I talk to all the makeup artists who touch me. They say to me: “Could you shut up? I’m trying to get something off your lips.
It’s easy, but rolling your lashes is a game-changer. Without putting on any false lashes, a makeup artist instantly made my lashes appear bigger and fuller. Basically, while putting on mascara, you move the outer lashes away from your face; in the middle of your lashes, you slide up, and the inner lashes, you brush towards the bridge of your nose. Also, another is when you show off your nose, you want to go as thin as possible. You want this highlighter line to be a tiny, narrow line.
What are your go-to skin care products?
I love Augustinus Bader’s creams, they are expensive, but really nice. Love Herbivore Botanicals Lapis Blue Tansy Face Oil and Osmosis Gentle Cleanser. I love Sunday Riley so much. The packaging of their CEO’s vitamin C rich moisturizer makes me feel so candy. And Biossance Rose Squalane Oil + Vitamin C is amazing.
If you could take a product to a desert island, what would it be?
The Cocokind Matcha All Over moisturizing stick. You can use it for your elbows, knees, hands, whatever. But I slip it in front of my eyes. And not to flex, but makeup artists always say, “You’ve got the best looking eyes ever.” They don’t wrinkle, they are smooth. I’m also a big lip gloss person; I don’t wear lipstick. I love Baby Phat Pink Glass Plumping Lip Gloss – I had my say in the design of this one. The packaging is really pretty. It reminds me of Dior makeup. It’s an expensive designer makeup brand that is actually really awesome. People will be wearing super expensive hand cream and I’m like, why? Gold Bond would have solved your problems. But Dior products are truly amazing. I love their Lip Glow Oil, which I first got when I was 11. I have fond memories of it, because I was so gassed at the idea of having a Dior lipstick. I was like, I’m a fucking adult!
What is your favorite form of personal care?
The delicious food is great. After Pyer Moss on Saturday, all the models went out to dinner. I met them, but not before walking to get four slices of pizza for 99 cents. I love eating really unhealthy food in front of the TV.
But I have noticed that our generation is very interested in healing, healing your traumas, healing your inner child. It’s a good thing because you just want to have a healthier life. Adults call us hypersensitive and I’m like, no, you’re repressed, man. You have trauma that you haven’t unearthed yet. They say, “I was abused as a child and I’m fine. And I’m like, you yell at all the guys in the parking lot. You’re not okay ! I love all of this Gen Z healing energy. We may be hypersensitive, but we do it for the right reasons.
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