When Tamara Mellon last visited Houston a decade ago as the mastermind behind Jimmy Choo, she was all business when I interviewed her. But when she returned to the Bayou City for an appearance at Tootsies a few months ago, she seemed much more down to earth and at ease.
She certainly wasn't as worried about appearances on the whirlwind trip, conducting interviews in a private room of a hair salon while having her hair, makeup and eyelashes done. (At 48, she looks great even without makeup.)
And she doesn't seem to be concerned as much about sweating the small stuff as she builds a new namesake brand after Jimmy Choo was sold for a reported $800 million in 2011.
CultureMap: Why did you leave Jimmy Choo and decide to strike out on your own?
Tamara Mellon: When you sell a majority of your business, you end up feeling like a guest in your own house. I felt like I was young enough to leave and start again or I could stay at Jimmy Choo and have another 5-to-10 years and just kind of go on with it. It didn’t feel right, so I decided to take the risk and do something under my own name.
CM: What have you learned?
TM: I have learned that this time I started with three categories of business instead of one. Jimmy Choo was shoes and this time I did shoes, bags and ready-to-wear. And that has been a lot of work.
It’s been very challenging but it’s also been very rewarding because I had the idea for the ready-to-wear in my head for a long time. It was just a matter of executing it.
CM: For someone who doesn’t know much about your new brand but kind of knows your name, how would you describe it?
TM: I was very conscious about bringing something sophisticated at an entry designer price point. Because when I looked at ready-to-wear, just for myself, I found things are really cheap or really expensive. And when designers think about contemporary price points they suddenly start designing clothes that look really young, so I thought there was nothing really sophisticated at that attainable price.
I was very conscious about the quality, which is absolutely amazing. You get a dress for $800, pants and skirt for $600 and jacket for $500. I think that’s the sweet spot that’s opening up in the market now.
CM: You and some others have targeted that little older customer who has the resources and is looking for something sophisticated.
TM: It’s kind of sexy, but sits on the right side of sexy. We know where the line is, so it makes them look elegant but has a little bit of edge to it.
CM: I read where your philosophy is "buy now, wear now." What is that and how do you put it in place?
TM: The existing business model is like a big old dinosaur. Women want to buy something today and wear it tomorrow. Very few of us think about what we’re going to wear in four months time.
So I’m trying to deliver things that can be worn immediately and also do monthly fashion, because when you are shopping online you don’t want to look for something and go back for the same thing, so frequency is really important. It keeps the customer coming back because it’s exciting.
CM: What’s the one thing that someone doesn’t know about you?
TM: That’s difficult because I put it all in my book (In My Shoes: A Memoir). When I wrote my book I decided that I wasn’t going to sugarcoat the story. I kind of told everything.
CM: I think one thing is that people still associate you so much with Jimmy Choo.
TM: They do. And some people don’t understand that I have left. I get that quite a lot.
CM: You have been in the news a lot lately with your boyfriend (former movie mogul Michael Ovitz). Does he advise you at all on the business?
TM: He’s a great mentor. He’s one of the great genius business minds. He’s a great sounding board.
CM: Is that the ring we've heard so much about in the tabloids, along with reports of an upcoming wedding?
TM: This is the ring he gave me. There is no wedding! (laughs) There is no wedding! He gave me the ring really because he just wanted to say "I love you very much" and we’re really committed and we’re going to be together. We’re life partners. And that’s really what the ring was for.
CM: Well, good for you.
TM: We’re really happy.