When hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons first met his future wife, he had no idea just how young she was.

Back in 1993 Simmons, then 35, met 17-year-old model KIMORA at a fashion show, where she was a muse to CHANEL designer Karl Lagerfield. And savvy Kimora exaggerated her years just slightly, to get the mogul's attention.

Simmons, the man who launched the careers of LL Cool J and Will Smith, remembers, "I went backstage and the other models told me to stay away from her because I was too old. She told me that she was 18. Her mother said it was OK if we dated.

"She had lived all over the world. She spoke a bunch of languages, French, German, Italian, Japanese. She had a certain polish and sophistication, and she was and is a lot of fun and very independent."

Despite an 18-year age difference, their marriage has lasted a decade and they have two daughters, MING LEE and AOKI LEE. And Kimora is proud of the fact that they have overcome many obstacles to stay together, even though many people caused problems for them at the start of their romance.

She adds, "Women at the time were very bitter and jealous and did not want us to date. People thought I was some young Asian girl who stole this rich black man. I'm multicultural and very much a black woman.

"So it was very difficult in the beginning... We come from different worlds. I was very mature for my age, and Russell has always been very playful and young at heart. It evens out. We had obstacles. But those obstacles made us more interested in each other."

20/06/2003 19:35