When it comes to Inspiring Women, shoe empress Tamara Mellon essentially wrote the book. Or rather, she tore up the rule book altogether as the ground-breaking founder of Jimmy Choo in the 1990s. Still paving the way these days for future generations of women in business as she helms her eponymous luxury footwear brand, Mellon has cemented herself as a purveyor of style, luxury, sexiness, and above all, female strength along the way. It’s safe to say we had a million questions we could have asked her—and here’s her pearls of wisdoms she had to impart.
How’s your summer going? What was the first thing on your agenda when things got back up and running?
The nicest thing is seeing friends again and being able to look forward to traveling, after being stuck in one place for 15 months! I’m hopefully going to Europe this summer, to Italy, if everything works out. I can’t wait to visit some of our favorite spots in Capri and on a little island called Panarea.
Tell us about your time working at British Vogue in the early ‘90s. What fundamental lessons did you learn there?
Working at Vogue was an incredible experience. I was there for five years and I ended up being the accessories editor. It gave me the idea to start Jimmy Choo, so without that [experience], I would never have had the idea. Whenever I’m talking to young people, I say something may not be your dream job, but you don’t know what it’s going to inspire you to do. By doing all these different things, I learned so much. I was handling luxury products all the time, I learned about the history of photography, about French houses, and how to do a photoshoot. I did incredible shoots: trekking in the Himalayas with Peter Lindbergh, shooting with Herb Ritz in Malibu, and working with legendary fashion editors like Sarahjane Hoare, which taught me how to style a shoot. It set me up for for doing so much!
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You are a staunch supporter and advocate for women in leadership roles—where does this stem from?
That came from working. I was so young when I started Jimmy Choo; I was 27-years-old. There weren’t that many female founders in the 1990s. I’d no idea about the challenges I was going to face in business, let alone facing them as a woman. I did four private equity deals with Jimmy Choo, and there was never a woman at the table. When I look back, that was insane! All these men at these private equity fund companies loved my brand, but they were suspicious of me. It was almost like if it was 500 years ago, I would have been a witch [in their eyes]! ‘How can this young woman be so successful? There must be something wrong with her.’ That’s how they viewed me, rather than coming in and supporting me. They wanted to be a part of the brand because it was glamorous, sexy, and profitable. But they couldn’t quite understand. That’s why I now surround myself with strong women. We do so much with my current brand about pay equity. That is so important to me, because we’re still not there yet. There are even more single mothers now, and I was once a single mother bringing up Minty and financially supporting her.
Speaking of strong women! What was it like working with Irina Shayk on your recent collaboration?
If I could pick any model in the world that embodies my brand, it’s her! Her eternal strength, internal power, her external beauty, and her values in life. She’s also a single mom; working and raising her daughter, which reminds me of when I was 35. She’s not afraid to speak up and she’s a powerful woman. You can feel that when you’re around her. She’s decisive and she knows what she wants.
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Will you continue the collaboration?
Yes! We’ll be doing another capsule this fall. It’s going to be an ongoing relationship.
We’re very curious, what footwear styles were you leaning to during the pandemic? Are you always found in heels?
I’m known for sexy heels, but what people don’t realize is that I’ve always loved very heavy biker boots and sneakers too. I bought my first pair of Air Jordans back in the ’80s! We’ve a sneaker called On My Way, so I wore those throughout the whole pandemic. We also have an indoor-outdoor slipper, Gypset, which are really comfy in the house but they have an outdoor sole so you can run out too. What I am fascinated by, like everyone else, is what people are going to be wearing going forward. I love the debate! There’s people who believe that some women are never going to put heels on again. But revenge dressing is coming back!
Where do you stand on it?
I actually really thought about that during the pandemic. Even for me, I thought, ‘How am I going to get my foot back into a heel!?’ The result is our Pillow Top collection with cloud cushioning. All the insoles have 6mm or 8mm of cloud cushion, and that’s the combination of how I see the world colliding.
I love seeing what you wear to work on the brand’s Instagram! What type of pieces and brands do you always gravitate towards to look polished?
I’ve been wearing a lot of vintage Levi’s jeans and putting them with great tops. I’m living in L.A. so it’s been a lot of flat sandals for the warm weather and even great boots in the summer. I love Etro and Missoni: I’m really liking more of a bohemian vibe. Kalita does easy, floaty summer dresses and there is an L.A. brand called Pour Les Femmes which is doing a great job of jumpsuits that make you look glamorous and pulled together. There’s also an Australian brand called McCall, and I’ve been wearing lot of kaftans.
Any idea how many shoes you own?!
Oh wow! I would say probably around 4,000 pairs now! I obviously collected my favorite from every season at Jimmy Choo. One day I’ll give them to a museum to do a retrospective exhibition. Now I’m collecting all the Tamara Mellon favorites, so it still grows every year.
Do you collect or obsess over anything else?
I collect art. I’m always looking at art and emerging, young talent. There’s a lot of great female artists. I recently purchased work from Loie Hollowell, who is represented by Pace. She has blown up! I do that with my partner. He’s a collector and we did that during lockdown when it was all online, but still always fun.
What footwear do you think everyone will want to wear for the remainder of this year?
I think the way we dress has really changed and it’s going to stay. It’s either functional or fantasy—that stuff in the middle has really gone away. Utility boots, biker boots, and motor cross boots are going to be here for a long time. Sneakers are going to keep getting bigger: everyone loves them. So it’s either that for everyday wear, or it’s crazy fantasy shoes. Two extremes with little in the middle
Are there any footwear trends you just can’t get behind?
I love sneakers, but I still can’t put my foot in a Birkenstock! Personally, I’d rather just wear a pair of sneakers.
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What are your most hopeful for during the remainder of 2021?
What I’ve taken away is that I appreciate my life so much more, and I don’t have to race around. I appreciate my friends so much; my old and new friends and even people that I’ve met during lockdown. I think slowing my life down and being really present in the things that I do has given me so much gratitude for the life that I have. And for my daughter! She’s in New York at NYU and she’s loving it. She’s having a great time, even though they had a weird freshman year.
What do you go to sleep grateful for every night?
My amazing daughter and her health. Having amazing women around me at work, who are on the same mission as I am. My partner and his support. Great mentors in my life and people who think really differently. During lockdown, I read a book called The Source. I met the author on Instagram through DM’ing each other and we became friends. She’s a neuroscientist with a PhD in psychology and she’s a senior lecturer at MIT. She’s become an amazing mentor, that I’m super grateful for and it’s a relationship I wouldn’t have had, because I wouldn’t have had the time.
I’m so exciting about our Fall ’21 collection and the product we’re going to be putting out into the market in August. It’s only around the corner! Women are going to love the combined comfort and fantasy. We’ve got styles with the Pillow Top innovation, and crazy psychedelic, ombré, and crystal details. Everyone is talking about the ‘Roaring ’20s’ and hopefully we get it. Seeing everyone emerging—that’s what I’m so excited about.
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