Tamara mellon’s account of how she overcame adversity in high heels, and the many enemies she made along the way.
THE first time I met Choo Yeang Keat (that’s the Chinese name of Jimmy Choo, by the way) was for an interview in 1998.
Our meeting took place in Regent Hotel (now Grand Millennium) in Kuala Lumpur.
I remember it well because he was incredibly down-to-earth in spite of his rising status then as shoemaker to the stars. (Kate Winslet, fresh off her role in Titanic, wore his design to the Academy Awards that year.)
Choo also showed me the pumps that he had designed and was supposed to deliver to Princess Diana before her ill-timed death. “The one thing I remember about Diana was her good heart; she always cared for people more than herself,” said Choo at that time.
As our photographer was taking his portrait shots, Choo was selfconscious about his receding hairline. (“Well, luckily you’re not a hat designer,” I quipped.)
Since then, receding hairline or not, we all know how far Choo – now a Prof Datuk – has come along.
Our favourite shoemaker is mentioned frequently throughout In My Shoes. This is Tamara Mellon’s much-hyped memoirs which she co-penned with William Patrick (who co-wrote Sidney Poitier’s The Measure Of A Man).
Alas, Choo is not cast in a favourable light in Mellon’s book. She repeatedly addresses Choo as a mere cobbler and describes him as a “creative head who in fact had no creativity”.
In a particularly scathing scene, Mellon claimed that after a business trip to Italy, Choo had “taken all the free paper and soap and everything else he could grab from the hotel and stuffed it into his bag. It wasn’t even a nice hotel we’d been staying in.”
She also writes in detail about the turbulent relationship between Choo and his niece Sandra Choi. By the end of the book, Mellon describes Choi – now the creative director of the company that bears her uncle’s name – as “still my biggest disappointment”.
So if you’re looking for juicy gossip and loads of name-dropping, you’ll find them here. For instance, did you know that Mellon used to date Hollywood actor Christian Slater? Because I didn’t.
But, and this is a big BUT, you have to take everything with a pinch of salt. Because this is Mellon’s side of the story – her versions of events – we cannot be sure whether she has exaggerated or embellished situations.
One thing is for sure, Mellon – the co-founder of Jimmy Choo, the company – does have one heck of a story to tell. And while these memoirs make for an interesting read, she alternates between being a fascinating and frustrating protagonist.
From her troubled childhood to her time as a young editor at Vogue to her partnership with Choo to her very public relationships, Mellon offers an account of the episodes that have made her who she is today.
Early in the book, she is eager to point out that: “The Sunday Times once wrote that I seemed ‘less an actual person than the heroine of some dicey Danielle Steel bonkathon’. The basic Danielle Steel conceit is to take a plucky heroine, set her on a quest, and then subject her to every villain and viper and obstacle imaginable, which, I suppose, is not an entirely bad summary of my life so far.”
In her insistence to cast herself as a Danielle Steel heroine, Mellon often paints herself as the damsel in distress. While she takes credit for almost everything (except perhaps the invention of sliced bread), she points fingers at everyone else for failures. She also complains incessantly about how bad her life is.
Because it’s written in snappy conversational prose, reading In My Shoes feels like you’re chatting with a friend over a hot cuppa or a glass of champagne. But the chapters are abruptly edited, and the writing is mediocre at its best. The book’s last quarter can also be tedious, with its emphasis on the minute details of business transactions.
The first quarter of In My Shoes is devoted, naturally, to how Mellon started the high-end shoe company. When her father lent her the seed money, he cautioned her: “Don’t let the accountants run your business.” Over the next 15 years, the struggle between “financial” and “creative” would become one of the central themes of her working life.
Mellon’s business savvy, creative eye, and flair for design built Jimmy Choo into a premier name in the competitive fashion industry. Over time, she grew Jimmy Choo into a billion dollar brand. She became the British prime minister’s trade envoy and was honoured by the Queen with the Order of the British Empire.
Meanwhile, her love for all things glamorous kept her an object of media fascination. Vogue photographed her wedding. Vanity Fair covered her divorce and the criminal trial that followed. Harper’s Bazaar toured her London town house and her New York mansion, right down to the closets. And the Wall Street Journal hinted at the relentless battle between “the suits” and “the creatives”, and Mellon’s triumph against a brutally hostile takeover attempt.
But despite her eventual fame and fortune, Mellon writes that she didn’t have an easy road to success. Her beginnings in the mansions of London and Beverly Hills were marked by a tumultuous and broken family life, battles with anxiety and depression, and a stint in rehab.
Determined not to end up penniless and living in her parents’ basement under the control of her alcoholic mother, Mellon honed her natural business sense and invested in what she knew best: fashion.
In creating the shoes that became a fixture on Sex And The City and red carpets around the world, Mellon relied on her own sense of what the customer wanted – because she was that customer.
But these memoirs reveal that success came at a high price – after struggles with an obstinate business partner (that would be Choo), a conniving first CEO, a turbulent marriage, and a mother who tried to steal her hard-earned wealth.
This book comes at a timely juncture, as Mellon readies herself for her next entrepreneurial venture bearing her name.
In My Shoes will appeal to fashion aficionados, aspiring entrepreneurs, and anyone who loves a juicy (true?) story about sex, drugs, money and power. And, of course, Mellon’s version of how she overcomes adversity in high heels.