For release Sunday, Oct. 28 () -
For release Sunday, Oct. 28 () —
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c.2012 New York Times News Service
Last November, when Tamara Mellon suddenly left Jimmy Choo, the shoe company she helped build into a global juggernaut, taking with her a reported payout of roughly $135 million, she did so without much explanation. The only thing close to an official statement was a message, sent out to her roughly 12,000 followers on Twitter, thanking them for their support and signing off with, "I will keep you posted."
But despite a largely silent stance ever since, Mellon, 45, hasn't exactly shunned the public eye. Last month, she attended the gala openings of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet (dressed both times in Valentino; the retired designer is a longtime friend), as well as a lunch at the Four Seasons for Barbra Streisand, a screening at the Museum of Modern Art of a documentary about the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, and the New York Fashion Week show of Kimberly Ovitz (the daughter of her boyfriend, Michael Ovitz).
Part of this marathon schedule, which includes speaking engagements covered by The Financial Times and a dating life chronicled by Page Six, is a reflection of her having moved from London to New York full time about a year ago.
''There is so much going on here, it's exhausting," Mellon said recently over lunch at Fred's, the ninth-floor dining room at Barneys New York, dressed in slim cut jeans and a black knit turtleneck. "When you first move, it's slightly overwhelming. You get so many invitations that you have four different things to go to in a night. That's a big difference from London, where you might have one good thing every couple of weeks."
It's also a reflection of a life that is set in a kind of limbo, on a bridge between the past and the future. What does that post-Jimmy Choo future hold for her? It's a question that Mellon finally seemed eager to talk about.
First there is a book she is writing, described by her as a nonfiction "entrepreneur story," to be published next year by Penguin Press.
"It's not strictly a business book and it's not strictly a memoir," she said. "It's a hybrid."
It will not be, she insisted, a rejoinder to "The Towering World of Jimmy Choo: A Glamorous Story of Power, Profits, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Shoe," by Lauren Goldstein Crowe and Sagra Maceira de Rosen, a decidedly unauthorized history of the company. As the review in Publishers Weekly put it: "Backstabbing and bitchery dominate this tale of woe."
She said she was unaware of what's actually in that book.
"I never read it and I don't want to read it," she said, her feline, light blue-gray eyes narrowing. (Actually, the exact color was difficult to pinpoint, as if a storm cloud had been mixed with green seawater.) "They didn't have access to anybody. There's wrong information out there. So it would be nice to clear that up. It'll be nice to close that chapter — Jimmy Choo was 15 years of my life — with a book."
There's also talk of her branching out into other aspects of the fashion business, and perhaps building a lifestyle brand, as her friend Tory Burch did. (Though her last foray into the design business — she was one of the principals, along with Harvey Weinstein and Sarah Jessica Parker in the ill-fated reboot of the Halston line — did not go particularly well.)
Burch, who said that she and Mellon have bonded over "some similarities in the challenges" they have faced building their global companies in a largely male-dominated business world, dismissed the predatory image that has become part of the popular narrative for Mellon's critics.
"She's fair," she said. "She's not ruthless."
The bottom line, Burch said, is that "Tamara is an incredible businesswoman."
Tamara Yeardye was born in London, the oldest of three children of Ann Davis, a former Chanel model, and Tommy Yeardye, a stunt double for Rock Hudson who later founded the Vidal Sassoon chain of salons with the famous hair stylist. Yeardye died in 2004.
In 1976, when she was 9, the Yeardyes moved to Beverly Hills, Calif., next door to Nancy Sinatra.
''In the '70s, there were high taxes in the U.K., so a lot of people left," Mellon explained.
But she would have a foothold on each continent, spending summers in California and flying back to England to attend Heathfield, a posh all-girls boarding school in Ascot.
''It was two completely different cultures," she said in her polished British alto. "It has helped me in business to understand the world globally."
After completing her O levels, roughly equivalent to graduating from high school, she picked up passable French while enrolled at the Institut Alpin Videmanette, a Swiss finishing school, now defunct, famous for educating another notable pupil, Diana Spencer, on etiquette and manners. Mellon did not attend college.
"It wasn't that expected of girls then to go to college in the U.K.," she explained. "And I didn't do well in school. I sort of turned my life around in my 20s."
The outlines of her story have been well chronicled: the stall on Portobello Road in London, where she sold T-shirts screen-printed with smiley faces ("I would do whatever the trending thing was"); brief stints at the department store Browns and in public relations; followed by a job as the accessories editor of British Vogue, where she met Jimmy Choo, a Malaysian-born Hackney cobbler. She went into business with him, starting out with a store in tony Knightsbridge.
It was an instant success. During one sale, Mellon remembered, the line for the shop was around the block, with customers pushing and shoving for merchandise.
"I had to have my brother be a bouncer on the door," she said, laughing. (She has two younger brothers. Gregory works in real estate and Daniel, who manned the door, is in music.)
Back then, Mellon was often dismissed as a rich girl working off daddy's connections. Indeed, the business' initial seed money came from her father.
"He loaned me 150,000 pounds — he told me one day, 'Just make sure you got more coming in than you've got going out' — and later when he saw the business was successful, he loaned me another million and we opened stores in New York," she said. "He made back his money and then some."
''But everything I have today was what I earned," she said. "I inherited nothing. Zero."
As Jimmy Choo's success grew, Mellon's circle of business connections widened. Ronald O. Perelman, now a close friend, first met Mellon at parties in New York and London. He appointed her to Revlon's board in 2008, and she is still a director.
"She plays who she is," Perelman said of Mellon. "She's just not forceful in proclaiming who she is, and that's one of her great qualities. She's not in your face and 'Look at me.' It's not a personality that's trying to one-up you."
In 2010, she was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron to a business ambassador's role, promoting Britain abroad, on the recommendation of Jonathan Marland, a member of the House of Lords and a former business associate of Mellon. The same year, she was honored by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the fashion industry.
In 2001, when Choo sold his shares in the company (and went on to focus on his bespoke business) and his niece Sandra Choi stayed on as the head designer, Mellon was cast as a ruthless opportunist, one who had gradually pushed aside the man whose name was on the company logo, a charge that lingered.
"Rightly or wrongly," the authors of "The Towering World of Jimmy Choo" wrote, "he felt he had been taken advantage of and that his name was being exploited without his consent."
The website Jezebel wrote of her in 2010: "It's hard to know what to make of Tamara Mellon. On the surface, she's a cunning businesswoman with the savvy to serve simultaneously as a brand figurehead. Or, possibly, a cunning brand figurehead with the ability to appear business-savvy."
At lunch, Mellon dismissed the notion that she had acted improperly.
"No one can force someone to sell their shares," she said. "It was Jimmy's decision. And he sold his name to the business."
Why not answer her critics back then?
''I don't really care about gossip," Mellon said. "I care about building great businesses."
But when it came to gossip, it didn't help that Mellon's personal life unfolded in a spectacular way. In 2000, she married the banking heir Matthew Mellon in a lavish star-studded ceremony at Blenheim Palace. The two had a daughter, Araminta (nicknamed "Minty"), but otherwise the marriage soon turned rocky. Mellon was treated for drug problems, and the British newspapers reported that she was having an affair with a younger man, Oscar Humphries. (For the record, Mellon said her relationship with Humphries began only after she and her husband separated.)
The Mellons divorced in 2005, but remain on good terms. In 2010, Matthew Mellon married Nicole Hanley in the Bahamas, and Mellon attended.
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Mellon would go on to date the actor Christian Slater for nearly two years. In the newspapers, she was also linked to Kid Rock, aka Robert James Ritchie.
"People always make more out of them," she said of her relationships. "Christian, yes. But Kid Rock, Bob, is a friend. So you can see, things spin out of control. Bob is still a dear friend and he's one of the great gentlemen I've ever met."
Her love life continues to fascinate the press. In March, racy photos surfaced of Mellon and Ovitz, a founder of Creative Artists Agency, on a yacht off St. Barts in the Caribbean.
"Someone sent them to us," Mellon said, laughing. "We were both like, 'Oh no, look at our bellies.' He goes, 'We can't go there again.' I said, joking, 'Yes we can. We'll go to the gym and have a redo.'"
With lunch plates cleared and cappuccino orders pending, she seemed to loosen up. She rummaged through her handbag, looking for — "Nicorette," she said. "I've given up smoking. It's been a year. I realize when you move to America you're undatable if you smoke." She laughed throatily.
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Mellon has much to be in good humor about. Her life in New York centers on Minty, now 10. Her apartment on the Upper East Side (luxurious enough to have been featured in Harper's Bazaar) is three blocks from her daughter's school. She also bought a sprawling house in Bridgehampton, N.Y., largely, she said, because Minty "is obsessed with riding and equestrian."
"We're two minutes from the stables," she said.
''Our daughters are joined at the hip," said Erica Reid, author of the book "The Thriving Child: Parenting Successfully through Allergies, Asthma and Other Common Challenges" and the wife of the music executive L.A. Reid, on Minty and her 11-year-old Arianna. Mellon, Reid said, "lives for that little girl." (And ferociously: According to The Telegraph, in 2008 Mellon sued her own mother for 5 million pounds to protect the financial interests of her daughter.)
Mellon has also pursued personal interests that have nothing to do with shoes. Recently, she opened her apartment to a salonlike gathering of friends and associates (a group The New York Post later called "some of New York's most beautiful") to hear the psychoanalyst Mark Solms discuss "The Brain in Love." She said she will host more talks with the Neuropsychoanalysis Association, including one on child brain development. "If I wasn't in fashion, I would have been a psychiatrist," she said.
She said she plans to set up a women's rights foundation — Mellon admires Burch's charity, which supports female entrepreneurs through microfinance — and she supports the Mayor's Fund, particularly its domestic violence center in Harlem.
As for her next business venture, Mellon's noncompete agreement with Jimmy Choo expires in February.
''It was the best thing for me to have a forced rest," she said, adding that she left not only because she did not agree with the management structure put in place by Labelux, which bought Jimmy Choo in 2011 for about $800 million, but because she wanted to leave while she was young enough to start a new business. "I'd rather take the risk and have a new challenge," she said.
Suitors don't seem to be in short supply.
"As soon as my resignation came out from Jimmy Choo, I had lots of people email me saying, 'I would love to invest in your new project,'" she said.
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(Perelman, for one, said he was interested, and Reid vouched: "She's one you would bet on. I've been to that house, I know what's brewing in the pot.")
Mellon is weighing her options but rest assured it will be a fashion venture, probably one that carries her own name.
''Fashion is what I know," she said.
"Tamara could rest on her laurels, but she's not," Marland said. "It's the thing I admire most about Americans. They don't want to work to make a million, they want to make a billion."
Whatever her next step, for now, there's that demanding social life to keep up. As lunch ended, she was asked about her weekend plans. It turned out that she would soon be on a plane to Milan.
''For a wedding for one of my dear friends," she said.