No, dear, it’s still Jimmy’s Choos: Tamara Mellon built the brand but didn’t get the credit. Here’s why.

Updated: Wednesday October 9, 2013 MYT 12:41:31 PM

No, dear, it’s still Jimmy’s Choos: She built the brand but didn’t get the credit. Here’s why.

SOUR grapes. That’s the handy idiom that means “unfair criticism that comes from someone who is disappointed about not getting something”. That’s the spot-on description of Tamara Mellon’s autobiography. If you thinking, “Tamara who?” – that is exactly why she is sour as hell. Okay, how about Jimmy Choo? Yes, our famous Malaysian Datuk and the brand of expensive shoes that bears his name. For the uninitiated, Tamara Mellon is a 46-year-old British woman who co-founded Jimmy Choo Ltd in May 1996 with Choo and developed it into the mega brand it is today. She has just released her tell-all book called In My Shoes this month. Even though she sold the company for £100mil (RM514mil) in 2011, it doesn’t seem to have cured her of long pent-up frustration and bitterness over many people.According to various UK news websites, the most vilified persons in her book are her mother and Choo who parted ways with her years earlier.

Mellon describes her mother, Ann Yeardye, as a “narcissist, a sociopath, and an alcoholic” who subjected her daughter to psychological abuse.

As for Choo, she dismisses him as a mere cobbler from Malaysia who did not contribute a single design to the brand’s success and paints him as superstitious and unsophisticated.

Mellon claims after they set up shop in Knightsbridge, “Jimmy’s only concern was to have a feng shui master bless the enterprise.

So we flew this guy over from Malaysia, went with him to the shop at midnight and sat in a circle while he chanted”.

She mocks him for packing up food from the plane and “everything free he could grab from the hotel” on their overseas trips.

Mellon soon decided that “I had set up a business with a ‘creative head’ who, in fact, had no creativity.” She then turned to Choo’s niece, Sandra Choi who had trained under him, and the two worked at coming up with the designs.

Yet, when Jimmy Choo became a spectacular success, poor Mellon didn’t get the credit. Choo did. The reason is simple: he provided the kind of charming and almost fairy tale-like back story that the media and public love.

Here was a guy from the exotic East, (Penang to be precise) and a shoemaker’s son who made his first pair for his mother at 11. After graduating from Cordwainers Technical College in London in 1983, he set up shop in unfashionable East London.

Yet, in 10 years, he managed to make a name for himself as the “go-to guy” for “bespoke shoes for women of a certain pedigree”, as Mellon admits.

Choo was admired as “a technical master with uncompromising work habits,” according to businessweek.com, and “it was his “reputation for producing some of the most exquisite handmade shoes available (that) brought him to the attention of Tamara Mellon”.

Choo was also shoemaker to Princess Diana, then the world’s most watched fashionista, which was only revealed after her death in 1997.

That revelation lent even more glamour and romance to his name.

In contrast, Mellon’s own story isn’t so charming: a drug addiction that got her fired from her job as accessories editor at Vogue magazine, a stormy, affairs-filled marriage to and acrimonious divorce from Matthew Mellon whom she met at a Narcotics Anony­mous meeting, and an ugly relationship with her mother that included law suits over money.

While it’s understandable that Mellon wants to put the record straight, the manner in which she has done it doesn’t put her in a good light. Even before In My Shoes, she was seen as someone who would “throw anyone under the bus for a buck”.

Robert Bensoussan, who was chief executive and later board member at Jimmy Choo Ltd, and vilified by Mellon as “an obstructive, pain-in-the-ass employee”, toldbusinesweek.com:

“She always wanted something bigger for herself, she wants to be a celebrity, another Tom Ford. But she’s starting by tarnishing the Jimmy Choo story. And I wonder if she’s tarnishing herself, too … It’s not very elegant.”

Damn right.

Her brother, Gregory Yeardye, 43, has strongly denied their mother was a raging lunatic, an alcoholic and abusive to her children.

“It’s hard for me to understand where Tamara is coming from. I think a lot of it is sensationalism to sell the book,” he reportedly said.

If Yeardye can defend his mum, I want to defend Jimmy Choo whom I have known for a long time.

Jimmy is a very kind man, caring and generous to friends.

I was with him at Mercedes Benz Prague Fashion Weekend late last month, just as the buzz was building over In My Shoes.

His aides told me UK papers were bugging him for a response but his standard reply was he hadn’t seen the book as it hadn’t been released.

Instead, he preferred to talk about his philosophy in life: Build your foundation by learning your craft well – and there are no shortcuts to that – be sincere and original, and don’t say bad things about others.

On Monday, I called him and he said he still hadn’t seen the book and had no interest doing so.

“It’s the same old story from her,” he said.

Admittedly, 20 years ago, Jimmy wasn’t a savvy businessman.

But as he told a Czech journalist, today he is a shoe designer and a businessman with his own team of lawyers and managers.

He is a sought-after speaker and guest-of-honour at many international events. Everyone wants to meet him.

In Prague, he was treated like royalty. He was escorted directly off the plane into a bullet-proof stretch limousine that is usually used by a visiting head of state and protected by two burly bodyguards.

He received the same enthusiastic reception in India and China.

A few years back, when I met Michael Buble in Las Vegas and said I was from Malaysia, he immediately told me he was thrilled to meet Jimmy when they were on the same flight. He obviously associated Jimmy Choo with Malaysia.

So now, Mellon is determined to start a line of clothes and shoes under her own name. She has a pair of boots called “Sweet Revenge” which tells you what is on her mind.

But frankly, “Tamara Mellon” doesn’t have a ring to it.

As someone posted online: “I’d rather say ‘I stepped out in a pair of Choos’ than ‘I stepped out in a pair of Mellons’,” while another wrote, “the catchy name alone was worth its weight in gold”.

Damn right again.

Well good luck to her but maybe Ms Sour Grapes should get the number of Jimmy’s Malaysian feng shui master to make sure she can make millions with her Mellons.

For the record, Aunty doesn’t own any Choos and she didn’t write this in the hope of getting a pair of handmade JC Couture. Really. Feedback tojunewong@thestar.com.my

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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