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Tamara Mellon – Of Shoes, Life & Luxury

Intelligent, business-savvy and a tough woman who has carved a global way for her brand. But there is another side to Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choo, which is filled with love, patience and integrity.

Tamara Mellon InterviewThere is not a regular fairytale story here. Founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon’s life story is more gripping than a mystery and thriller novel. But what is noticeable is the way she emerged out of each of life’s dead-ends stronger and tougher.

Her personal life and trials have been splashed across tabloids, often being portrayed as an aggressive woman determined to get her way, by hook or by crook. Instead, we found her to be a very down-to-earth and simple person. Her youthful, girly and vivacious face doesn’t show any signs of her tumultuous past.

The lady herself
Born in London in 1969, Mellon was working as accessories editor in British Vogue when she came across a Malaysian cobbler named Jimmy Choo. Mellon frequently visited Choo’s workrooms, often instructing him to create shoes for her shoots. Soon, borrowing money from her businessman father, Tom Yeardye, Mellon opened a shop that she filled with the sort of shoes she liked to wear. Initially, Choo designed her shoes, and then his niece created them. From the first collection itself, her shop became a magnet for the international super-rich society.

Since buying Jimmy Choo, Mellon has moved fast. She pushed forward her label and brought it to the red carpet with glamourous Hollywood celebrities wearing it to premiers and awards – the best advertisement a brand can get. Mellon was amongst the first to bring Jimmy Choo to the red carpet at a time when dressing celebrities was still a new concept. She set up camp in a hotel room before the 1999 Oscars for fittings. Demand for the shoes increased.

The empire expanded with new shops opening in Paris, Milan, Beijing and other fashion capitals. In India, she has three stores, in DLF Emporio Mall, New Delhi; in Mumbai; and now in Bengaluru at the UB City Mall. “India is very special to us. Apart from the three boutiques, India has often been a design reference for me. My team and I have taken inspiration trips to India in the past. We couldn’t be more grateful for the reception we receive from Indian women. They were quick to embrace the brand, appreciate luxury and craftsmanship and are good at fusing traditional and modern styles with beautiful results,” she says.

Mellon moved to New York last year with her seven-year-old daughter Araminta (Minty). She remains the president and Chief Creative office of the company, leaving Sandra Choi (Choo’s niece and the longtime creative director) in London. Apart from personal reasons, the move makes sense because about 50 per cent of Jimmy Choo’s sales come from the United States.

As a culmination of all her hard work, dedication, she was recently honoured by the Officer of the British Empire. “I am so thrilled to receive this great honour and to be recognised for this. I am grateful to everyone at Jimmy Choo – and our customers around the globe – for helping making us a success. While our brand has global reach, the roots and heritage of Jimmy Choo are uniquely British, so I am especially pleased and proud of this honour.”

The business part of it
Tamara Mellon with her shoesMellon has learnt a lot from her father. He encouraged her to start a small venture in the form of a stall when she was only 17 so that she could learn how to trade. But what she has learnt without her father’s help while running Jimmy Choo is to “invest in craftsmanship and materials and trust your gut instinct!”

Being a woman, handling a luxury shoe brand, she sees various changes in consumer preferences, especially after the recent recession. “I think we will find a rise in the conscious consumer. Women are investment shopping, they need to know that their purchases are exclusive, of the highest quality and will add value to their wardrobe.  Women are becoming smarter in the way they shop. As brands, we have to make every effort to ensure that we supply their demands. This shift in consumer habits is what led us to launch our Choo 24:7 collection which is designed as the perfect shoe wardrobe. It is the definitive assortment of iconic Jimmy Choo shapes, refreshed with a new and modern twist, providing stylish dressing for all occasions,” she explains.

There is a lot that we can look forward to from the from the Jimmy Choo stable in the coming months. “In November, we will be collaborating with Ugg Australia to launch a capsule collection based on the iconic UGG Australia sheepskin boot construction with design details that embody the spirit of the Jimmy Choo brand. We will be launching our 15th Anniversary Collection alongside our Cruise 11 collection in November which is the first of a series of new initiatives unveiled during the coming year to celebrate the iconic spirit and 15 year heritage of the brand. We have taken the signature jewelled shoes which helped make the brand famous and updated and modernised them for a new generation. Following that, we shall be launching Choo 24:7 bags in January 2011. Next year we will launch our first Jimmy Choo fragrance. So we are entering a very exciting period for the brand,” says Mellon.

Jimmy Choo vs older brands
Jimmy Choo was founded in 1996 and is a recent entrant in the luxury sector. Other luxury accessories brands had started long back and have longer-standing legacies and traditions to speak of. How did Jimmy Choo overcome the fallacy that older means better? “I don’t think being a young brand has ever been a roadblock for us. We are unique in what we do. I am just immensely proud of what we have achieved in such a short period of time and will be celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2011,” she says.

Jimmy Choo started with shoes. And what shoes! Women around the world adore their exotic designs, unique materials, and of course, the spectacular high-heels. Jimmy Choo was soon in the wishlist of every woman. While the rich and famous took home Jimmy Choos by the bagful, lesser fortunate souls would save money and buy that one pair of coveted Jimmy Choo. That’s the kind of effect this brand has on women.

Women entrepreneur Tamara mellonThe brand has diversified in other verticals too like bags, accessories and sunglasses. Mellon says, “My vision for Jimmy Choo has always been to fully accessorise women, by building a full luxury house with shoes at the core. With women’s shoes, handbags, small leather goods, eyewear, soft accessories already available and the launch of our first fragrance coming in 2011, my goal to create a global luxury lifestyle brand is fast becoming a reality. We continue to look at other complimentary categories, but we always do so with a certain discipline, so that each builds upon the Jimmy Choo brand story.”

Style talk
Being British and staying in London, was the New York fashion scene a shock for her? She says, “Both cities have so much to offer in terms of fashion, I am never short of inspiration in either! I have such respect for New York women. They are always so immaculately groomed and the way they put their looks together is flawless. London girls, on the other hand, have an edge about them. They have a way of mixing current trends with great vintage pieces with unique flair.”

Mellon’s most expensive indulgence till now is her new home in New York. Luxury for her is “combining innovative design with comfort and quality”. Style-wise, Mellon has an astounding number of 600 Choos in her closet. Girls around the world would clamber to get even 10 per cent of that selected collection. “I archive older styles and continue to update my shoe closet with the latest seasons. Our collections are designed to offer shoes for every occasion in a woman’s life, so I really don’t need to wear anything else. We have evening shoes, classic court shoes, flat shoes, boots with every heel option, espadrilles, trainers and now the collaboration with Ugg Australia.”

After hectic business schedules, court cases, divorce and break-ups, and shifting to another city, is she finally at peace? “Yes. Being a mother is the most grounding thing in the world. My daughter keeps things in perspective for me.”