In the late ’90s and early aughts, they soared to international recognition on Sex and the City—not to mention on the feet of pretty much every boldface-named movie star in the biz. But how much do you really know about what went on behind the scenes at Jimmy Choo, the stiletto empire co-founded by Tamara Mellon in 1996? In her new memoir In My Shoes, Mellon—who left the billion-dollar brand she helped build in 2011—tells all, from her professional struggles with Choo himself to the drama that’s plagued her own family for years.
You’ll be able to hear more from Mellon firsthand when she speaks at our Founders Series at Lucky FABB later this week; in the meantime, read on for our chat with the designer, in which she explains how she got her Choos onto the feet of Oscar nominees, the unconventional business model behind her new namesake collection (launching next month!) and why every woman needs a pair of "legging boots" in her life.
Lucky: Some of our readers might not know that you actually got your start in the magazine world. What’s the most important thing you learned during your time in editorial? How did it help prepare you for a career in design?
Tamara Mellon: I learned what editors are looking for—and in turn, what consumers are looking for. Being an editor has taught me the importance of the quality and innovation of a product or brand.
At Jimmy Choo, you were responsible for getting your shoes onto the feet of Hollywood’s A-list. How did you you break into the competitive sphere of celebrity dressing?
We went out to Los Angeles for the Oscars with no commitments—just 60 pairs of black and white satin shoes. We filled the bathtub and custom-dyed the shoes to match the gowns. It was the peak of both the celebrity as a fashion icon and also of accessories/shoes as status symbols, and we were at the right place at the right time. The Sex and the City moment made Jimmy Choo a household name—it opened the door for a new aspirational customer.
You’ve said before that your new namesake label, unlike most brands, will release clothing that’s currently in season rather than several months ahead—coats in December, shorts in July, etc. Can you explain the decision behind this "buy now, wear now" concept a bit more?
I was tired of the old way and wanted to break out of that cycle! The internet and our way of reporting has completely changed the way that the customer views fashion. Editors used to be the ones to see the collections at fashion shows as they happened. I believe that today’s customer is smarter—she wants to wear the product when she sees it, sticking to a seasonal calendar. That’s the concept behind my new business model, and retailers have been supportive. We will be in Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Harrods and Net-a-Porter for our November launch.
You’re launching your new brand through e-commerce, but are there plans to open brick-and-mortar stores, too?
Yes—we plan to open stores in New York and London in 2014. I believe that both the online and the in-store experience are extremely important, because while many people do shop online, the in-store experience will evoke the core identity of the brand through all of the senses.
As someone who spearheaded several design collaborations over the past few years (Jimmy Choo x H&M, Jimmy Choo x Hunter Boots), what are your thoughts on the current state of designer collabs?
I fully support collaborations—meetings of the minds bring newness and innovation!
What is the most shocking thing that people will learn about you from your new book?
What is was really like behind the closed doors of Jimmy Choo.
If you could pick one favorite piece/item from your new Tamara Mellon collection you’re particularly proud of, which would it be and why?
The legging boot—it’s a legging and boot all in one! They’ll be staples in every woman’s closet. She can wear them with a cashmere t-shirt, under a dress or with a sequined blouse. We’ve named them "Sweet Revenge." All of our shoes have fun names: "Bad Girl," "Whisper," "Wild Night," "Submission"…
As someone who’s been a fixture in the fashion industry for many years now, do you have any professional regrets?
My biggest regret is not speaking up and trusting my instincts. I wish that I would have spoken up about gender discrimination and pay equality. Too often, women are not treated fairly or taken seriously at work.
For our readers hoping to break into the design world themselves, what’s the one most important piece of advice you’d like to share?
Follow your passion. If you are passionate about something, success will come.
In My Shoes: A Memoir is now available at Amazon.com.