June 4, 2014

Tamara Mellon’s own lifestyle brand seeks to “disrupt fashion”

THESTAR.COM – Co-founder of Jimmy Choo hits retail sweet spot with shoes, handbags and line of ready-to-wear clothing.

Tamara Mellon’s own lifestyle brand seeks to “disrupt fashion”

Tamara Mellon sums up her new eponymous lifestyle brand in a soft, plummy voice. “It is sexy in the right way,” she says, seated delicately on a cushion at the Holt Renfrew offices on Bloor St.

After years lived amid lurid lawsuits and gossip in the glare of tabloid spotlights, the co-founder of Jimmy Choo has found her zen place. It helps that she is also sitting on a reputed $100 million earned for the 2011 sale of her interests in the shoe empire. Mellon took a year off, as demanded by her noncompete clause, in which time she penned a juicy tell-all memoir, In My Shoes, which sparked much chatter when it landed last fall. And she incubated her new line, which debuted at Holt Renfew last year (as well as at celebrated international doors such as Harrods and Neiman Marcus) as a fully formed triple threat: shoes, handbags and something entirely new for the footwear legend — a line of ready-to-wear clothing.

She is seeking, as she puts it, to “disrupt fashion,” by introducing a new, seasonless approach to sales. New merchandise hits the floor every month, and it is “buy now, wear now.” That means bikinis in June and coats in October, a logical leap that is more revolutionary than you might think.

Jimmy Choo was built around Mellon’s own glamorous life, shots of her on the town, and her celebrity connections. It was among the first brands to place product on the red carpet, and enjoyed a huge boost of support from the Sex and the City team.

Her own brand is celebrity-endorsement free, which Mellon feels “is more modern.” Hence a client luncheon hosted by Alexandra Weston, Holt Renfrew’s director of brand strategy, was held last week in Toronto to introduce Mellon to real-life store clients and fashion editors, and to host a shopping event at the flagship.

Mellon, who is now 46, was an It girl in London in the 1990s. The glamorous life came with a cocaine and champagne habit: she has always been open about leaving her gig as accessories editor at British Vogue to go to rehab. Clean and sober in 1996, she set about making Malaysian cobbler Jimmy Choo a household name.

Her memoir is a no-holds-barred telling of that tale, and the troubled childhood that preceded it. Mellon grew up between England and Beverly Hills, Calif., with a stop at a Swiss finishing school (her father made his own millions building the Vidal Sassoon brand; her mother was a Chanel model). It was her father who gave her seed money to launch Jimmy Choo. It was perceived that Mellon pushed Choo out when he sold his share of the business in 2001; today Mellon maintains simply that Choo left of his own volition and wound up a very rich man.

Oh, and mixed into the story is her drama-soaked marriage to Matthew Mellon II, the American trust fund prince fraught with his own legal and addiction issues.

She always maintained Jimmy Choo was about the shoes she herself wanted to wear. This muse connection is even more firmly at play with her own brand. Vogue noted the line’s “underlying real world effortlessness.” These are not clothes for girls, and they are priced just below designer, so $800 for a dress, $600 for a skirt.

“Right in the sweet spot above contemporary and below designer. A woman doesn’t want to spend $2,000 for an everyday dress. And contemporary lines have become so young, all skater skirts and such,” she says.

In Tamara Mellon you will find some signature touches, which will always be available, in what Mellon calls “an edgy classics” collection called Endless. That means gladiator sandals, fringed skirts, pencil skirts and blouses, such as the one Mellon is wearing today, a black silk with peek-a-boo cut-out shoulders. It shows a little bit of skin, but not too much: the right sexy, as Mellon would say.

There are always cashmere T-shirts on offer, and she has had a wild sellout of her Sweet Revenge legging boots: boots that are attached to a pair of leather leggings. “Perfect for wearing under a short skirt, so you don’t have that little bit of skin showing.”

Mellon says she has had great fun with the product names. A perfect pump is called Addiction. The blouse she is wearing is Cold Shoulder. The shoes and bags can cost a little more: “They are made at the best factories in Italy, and I wanted to produce the best quality.”

These do bear her name, after all. “That was very important to me. I learned the hard way not to give up control, not to sacrifice the creative for business concerns. We cut deeper into our profit margin to deliver what women want at the right price.”

She wrote her book, which reveals painful details of growing up with an abusive alcoholic mother (who later sued Mellon for a share of her profits from the sale of Jimmy Choo), for catharsis. “Writing it was very painful, but it helped me close a chapter of my life and move on.”

Mellon also hopes to inspire women in business. “As women we don’t value ourselves enough.” Her experience, she says, means she won’t repeat her mistakes. “Having been through the ringer with three private equity companies and four corporate sales, I now have all the confidence I need.” For her own daughter, the adorably named Minty Mellon, now 12, she says. “I want her to be independent and have self-esteem.”

Let’s hope also that Minty shares her mother’s foot size: the queen of shoes has a closet she estimates to be 3,000 pairs, “maybe four.” And with new pairs rolling off the line every month, that collection is certain to grow. www.thestar.com