by Nadia Michel
Tamara Mellon, the co-founder of Jimmy Choo, has resurrected her namesake brand, which is now rocking the shoe industry with some intrepid branding, a direct-to-customer strategy and a few unexpected designs.
WHICH OF YOUR CURRENT STYLES ARE YOUR FAVOURITES?
– I love Frontline, Icon, Paramour, and Military. I think these four styles sum up all aspects of the Tamara Mellon brand. Frontline is our signature shoe: it’s our fresh take on the sandal heel, and it’s become a red carpet favourite. Icon is my go-to knee-high boot, Paramour is our interpretation of the classic Mary Jane, and Military is our patent leather, lace-up military boot.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH SWEET REVENGE, THOSE EYE-POPPING, FULL-BLOWN LEGGING BOOTS THAT ARE ONE OF YOUR SIGNATURE DESIGNS?
– I had the idea years ago to create a pair of boots that lengthened legs and didn’t stop at thigh-high. I presented the concept to the team at Jimmy Choo and they hated it. They thought it was too risky and that women wouldn’t get it. But I stood by my idea, and years later, on my own terms and at my namesake company, I designed and made them. They are still available for purchase, and they are one of our core items.
HOW DID THINGS CHANGE FROM THE TIME YOU CO-FOUNDED JIMMY CHOO IN 1996 UNTIL YOU LEFT IN 2011?
– Jimmy Choo began as a tiny startup that I bootstrapped with money from my father. I was everything: I was the Creative Director and CEO for the first five years. I designed the shoes. I even worked on the shop floor of our first store when they needed coverage. In 2011, we had over 145 stores across the globe and were valued at over 1 billion USD. I sold it on a high, and set out to recreate a timeless business with a new model that looked to the future.
I REALLY BELIEVE THAT BRANDS CAN NO LONGER BE NEUTRAL OR TRY TO PLEASE EVERYBODY, SO WE TAKE A STAND FOR WHAT WE BELIEVE IN.
HOW IS THE TAMARA MELLON LABEL DIFFERENT FROM, AND SIMILAR TO JIMMY CHOO?
– Both brands are very similar in their quality. The shoes at Tamara Mellon are still made in Italy in 100 year-old, family-run factories. I also personally design and fit-test all of our shoes. However, we’re different from Jimmy Choo in that we’re a digitally born company that’s direct-to-consumer. We interact with our customer differently. We hear her feedback, we know what she wants, and we deliver.
YOUR MARKETING CAMPAIGNS CELEBRATE WOMEN AND THEIR POWER. IS THIS SOMETHING THAT STEMS FROM YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE?
– Absolutely. I wanted to create a different culture at Tamara Mellon that I had never experienced before. With everything I do, I want to support and empower all women – both internally with my employees, and externally with my customers. With our marketing specifically, we want to be able to speak in a way that our customers can relate to.
AFTER YOUR NAMESAKE LABEL’S BANKRUPTCY IN 2015, YOU RE-LAUNCHED AS AN ONLINE RETAILER. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE BRAND IN TERMS OF YOUR APPROACH TO DESIGN AND MARKETING?
– I had to rethink and change everything. Most importantly, I realised that the new business model had to be direct-to-consumer – not wholesale. The design process is also completely different. We don’t design for big collections anymore, and we focus on what we want to release monthly that is seasonally appropriate for our woman. As for our marketing, it’s really just a direct reflection of our values. It’s personal as opposed to being corporate. We’re not trying to appeal to everyone – we’re appealing to women with similar values and ideals. My team and I are building a community of like-minded customers, and it starts with our core principles of feminism and female empowerment.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A SUCCESSFUL WOMAN?
– It takes a lot of perseverance. You have to have hard knocks and an unshakeable belief that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. Being successful also requires a support system of great female friends to help lift you up.
– It’s so much more than looks and the superficial. Confidence is sexy. Being comfortable in your own skin is more powerful than anything else.
WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF TO BE A REBEL, AND WHY?
– I see myself as more of a disruptor. With this company, I’m completely flipping the business model of luxury retail that I helped build in the 1990s. We’re disrupting the luxury space. We’ve eliminated the 6x retail markup – without sacrificing quality – by eliminating the middleman and going direct-to-consumer. We’re also outspoken and unapologetic, where other brands are so calculated with everything. I really believe that brands can no longer be neutral or try to please everybody, so we take a stand for what we believe in.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO EXPAND YOUR LABEL?
– We opened up our first brick-and-mortar location this past year at Caruso’s Palisades Village in Los Angeles, which was a huge milestone for our brand. I wanted to reimagine the retail experience when it came to shoe shopping, so our store feels more like a closet you can walk right into. All of the shoes are on the floor, so you can walk right up to them and try everything on. I wanted women to see and feel how beautiful the shoes are in real life, just like they do everyday at home. We’re definitely planning to open more retail stores in the US so more women can experience our brand in person.
WHEN DO YOU THINK YOU’LL EXPAND TO THE MIDDLE EAST, AND WHAT KIND OF BUSINESS MODEL DO YOU ENVISION HERE?
– We’re still a young brand and just passed our two-year mark, so international growth is on the horizon. We’ll always be direct-to-consumer because we want to keep our customer first. Having that one-to-one relationship is the most important thing to us.
– I fell in love with shoes when I was the accessories editor at British Vogue. During my time there, I realised there was a huge gap in the market. There was really only Manolo Blahnik, and I wanted to change that.
WHO IS THE TAMARA MELLON CUSTOMER?
– Our customer is a new luxury shopper who understands and values the importance of quality. She is intelligent, worldly, sophisticated, and modern.