Photography Atisha Paulson
“I have an idea,” Sophie Tweed-Simmons says when we meet for coffee on the Upper East Side in New York. “How about if I ask strangers on the street if they’d dance with me? I’ve always wanted to do that.”
The Sophie x TheStyleClub designer is brainstorming on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the photo shoot we're about to do. We’re going to check out the “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire” exhibit, a winking choice — Tweed-Simmons is the daughter of Gene Simmons, one of the founding members of the rock band KISS and famous for dressing in all-black goth-style costumes.
It’s the first truly cold day in New York this winter. Outside the coffee shop, moms are pushing bundled-up babies, and older couples are strolling even more slowly. Among them, Tweed-Simmons, 22, who’s also an actress and a singer, stands out. She’s wearing what she calls her “pimp coat” — a long, bright floral jacket with a velvet collar that used to belong to her mom, actress and Playboy model Shannon Tweed.
She grabs a doorman. “Would it be OK if I danced with you?” she asks. He looks as psyched as if she’s suggested they run away to Ibiza. He spins her around and dips her before she scurries on, posing in front of a red door, bending over so she can fling her hair in the wind (“There’s always time for a hair flip,” she says.) and holding out her arms like Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic to make her pimp coat blow behind her. The whole time she’s smiling.
It makes sense that Tweed-Simmons is a lot of fun. Her dad is known for wearing studded codpieces and platform boots and sticking his tongue out with abandon (He did this long before Miley ever did.). Her mom was 1982’s Playmate of the Year and an erotic-thriller movie star — think KISS’s party anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite” and Cinemax as the building blocks of her childhood.
But until recently, Tweed-Simmons wanted nothing to do with stardom. Fashion — in particular, making clothes that fit women who were average sized — is what made her want to use her famous name. “I felt like I really had the chance to give girls confidence with affordable clothing,” she tells Yahoo Style. “If you have a platform, you should use it.”
Being a designer is also a way for her TO work in her own space. “When I’m singing, I’m Gene Simmons’s daughter,” she says. “When I’m acting, I’m Shannon Tweed’s daughter. With fashion, I’m just me. I’m not just ‘daughter of blank.’”
Tweed-Simmons grew up very much the “daughter of,” and she did it on TV. She started filming the family’s reality show, Gene Simmons: Family Jewels, when she was 11. It ran for eight years. But during her late teens and early 20s, she stepped back from Hollywood, playing volleyball and majoring in religious studies at Pitzer-Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. She also opened a charity for abused children in Vancouver, Canada, called Sophie’s Place (Her mom is Canadian, and Tweed-Simmons has a Canadian maple leaf tattoo on the back of her neck.).
“I had avoided being part of the industry for so long,” she says. “I’d say ‘I’m a singer’ and people would be like, ‘Do you sing rock?’ I hated being compared to my family.”
I can’t see many of her “daughter of” counterparts being as honest as she is — Ivanka Trump probably wouldn’t say she hates being compared to her father. Tweed-Simmons says she learned to be so straightforward from her very direct dad (In an infamous interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Gene Simmons said about his codpiece: “The notion is if you're going to welcome me with open arms, you also have to welcome me with open legs.”). “My dad’s a little crass,” Tweed-Simmons says. “When I was little, I’d think, ‘Can’t you just be nice?’ He taught me that there’s being nice and then there’s lying. It’s better to be blunt and un-liked than shade the truth. I appreciate people who are honest.”
This has helped her stand out in the fashion industry, where truth-telling is sometimes as rare as no one caring about a front-row seat at Alexander Wang. She’s a big-time advocate of body positivity. “I’m not a high-fashion model, and I’m not plus size,” says Tweed-Simmons, who’s 5’8” and fluctuates between sizes 8 to 12. “Which is weird for fashion, but not for life. A lot of designers that I love don’t fit me. I wanted to do cuts that would be flattering to girls who have some shape.”
Growing up, she was the same size as her mom (“We shared clothes,” she says.) and had to endure comments about her figure on tabloid covers. “We went on a family vacation, and I was wearing a thong bikini like my favorite celebrity, Sofîa Vergara,” she says, “and someone took my picture. As a 17-year-old girl, I had to see my butt on the cover of The Daily Mail with the headline ‘Gene Simmons plus-size daughter.’ It made the global news circuit. I grew up a chubby kid and into a curvy girl. I was OK with it, but the world wasn’t. I have cellulite, stretch marks, and freckles, and that’s fine with me.”
She refuses to let pictures of her body be digitally manipulated. When the first shots of her posing in Sophie x TheStyleClub came back she thought, “My legs look too good.” She asked if they’d been altered using Photoshop and after learning that they had, she said what very few people would: “Can you change them back?” Size eight, she says, is her “happy place.” “I like eating cookies and food,” she says. “I like the treadmill, but I don’t want to kill myself.” She’s also OK with her pale skin; she uses NARS Siberia powder, a shade not that far off from her dad’s alabaster base makeup.
The Sophie x TheStyleClub launch collection of floral leggings, loose cardigans, and sequined skirts reflects both Tweed-Simmons’s style (“Grandma, but not in a loser way," she says. "I like a high collar.”) and her respect for strong women. Each item is named after a female role model. Tweed-Simmons is openly a feminist. “I think girls who say they’re not a feminist are wrong,” she says. “Being a woman living in this day and age, you’re living all of these achievements of women who came before you, of women who’ve blazed the trail for you.”
There’s the Oprah (an open-back sweater), the Peron (floral shorts), and the Hillary (an oversized turtleneck). Arianna Huffington even wrote to say thanks for naming a supersoft knit sweater after her.
“My mom bought one of everything,” Tweed-Simmons says. “She’s my best friend.”
“What about your dad?” I ask. “Has he worn any of it?”
“No,” she says, laughing. “But he’s really proud of what I’ve done business side. It’s an industry you can bankrupt yourself in. He likes to say we stayed in the green. We didn’t go into the red.”
When we get to the museum, Tweed-Simmons isn’t sure she’s even been inside (She knows her dad used to live in an apartment nearby, though.). She talks about getting lost in the Louvre in Paris once and remarks on how the Egypt section reminds her of painting her own sarcophagus in school. She points out a thick gold cuff in a case. “That’s so in style right now,” she says.
When we get to the death-wear exhibit, the room is hushed. Small mannequins are arranged on an oval-shaped platform under gray light; most are in variations of Victorian black lace gowns. Still, it’s impossible for Tweed-Simmons to be somber. “I love black,” she says. “I already like some of the dresses, which is so morbid. I wouldn’t pick one with a bustle, though, since I already have a booty.”
The walls are lit up with quotes about mourning wear; she chooses a favorite, one from a book of manners: “Black is very becoming; and young windows, fair, plump, and smiling, with their roguish eyes sparkling under their black veils are very seducing.” Of a menswear funeral outfit she says, “Very Karl Lagerfeld.”
On the way out, she stops to pose next to the hashtag on the wall — #deathbecomesher — so it looks like a word bubble coming out of her mouth. “Is it weird to smile?” she asks before grinning big. “Fashion should be fun, even mourning fashion.”