So-le juicy

Ta­mara mellon’s ac­count of how she over­came ad­ver­sity in high heels, and the many en­e­mies she made along the way.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Ta­mara mellon with Wil­liam Port­fo­lio Pen­guin, 274 pages, non-fic­tion Re­view by WIL­LIAM K.C. KEE star2@thes­

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.

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