Designer behind success of Jimmy Choo shoes bares her soul

Reading Tamara Mellon's memoir, In My Shoes, is a lot like wearing a pair of stilettos: thrilling and uncomfortable at the same time.

Until 2011, Mellon strode around in shoes by Jimmy Choo, the high-end brand she founded in London in 1996 with Choo, a Malaysian couture shoemaker, and her father, entrepreneur Tommy Yeardye, who had worked with Vidal Sassoon.

She was 28, single, living in her parents' basement, recently fired from British Vogue and getting over a nightclubs-and-cocaine habit.

The business made her famous. Marriage to a man from a wealthy American family made her a Mellon. By book's end, she's cashed out of Jimmy Choo for a reported $135 million and is starting a new brand, Tamara Mellon.

The memoir follows the rise of Jimmy Choo alongside the more interesting tale of the making of Tamara Mellon as she melded society, celebrity and fashion in her own life.

Fashion designer Tory Burch and others have built brands around their images. The dirt usually comes out later. Mellon, 46, is fearless in choosing to start her label with a chronicle of her drug use, love affairs, depression and major mother troubles.

One of her best traits is a steely will. By her account it took her just six weeks in rehab to get clean.

It's the things she can't control that drive her crazy — such as Mr. Choo, her mother and a series of private-equity executives who have their way with the shoe company.

"I simply never imagined when I started this journey just how many back stabbings, cliff-hangers and oncoming trains lay ahead," she writes.

So much bile comes Mellon's way that I couldn't help wondering if she had done something to deserve it. She doesn't admit to any fault or take any blame. Whatever the truth, a life lived fighting people off and feeling alone is sad. All the glamour — outfitting stars at the Oscars, holidays in Capri — does very little for her.

Even her fairy-tale wedding is drained of joy: "My face hurt from maintaining a beauty contestant's frozen smile, and I was counting the hours. I had one more costume change, an amazing gray silk cocktail dress from Chloé for going away. Then I'd throw the bouquet and go back to the hotel and cry."

Soon enough she divorced Matthew Mellon, tired of what she calls his "lovable incompetence"; became a single working mom; and defended herself against a lawsuit brought by her mother, who thought she was owed money.

Fortunately, there are some parts that Tamara Mellon seems to take genuine joy in telling: the story of her father, who began with nothing; the story of how she started designing Jimmy Choos when she decided Choo himself wasn't up to the job.

Mellon went to the flea market for inspiration and met with a manufacturer in Italy to get the shape of the heel just right.

"The few times that Jimmy had anything to say about design," she writes, "it was with a complaint that I was making the heels too high."

The book closes with Mellon finally claiming happiness, living in New York and dating former Hollywood talent agent Michael Ovitz, about whom she writes, "It's such a relief to be with a real grown-up."


'In My Shoes'

By Tamara Mellon

Portfolio/Penguin. 275 pp. $29.95.

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