Mellon is at the heart and sole of Jimmy Choo

FILE- This Oct. 20, 2010 file photo shows Britain's Tamara Mellon, co-founder of Jimmy Choo, as she displays her OBE, which was awarded by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. Mellon is growing the luxury brand that has built its reputation on towering high heels into a full-fledged fashion house. (AP Photo/Dominic Lipinski, Pool, FILE)
FILE- This Oct. 20, 2010 file photo shows Britain's Tamara Mellon, co-founder of Jimmy Choo, as she displays her OBE, which was awarded by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London. Mellon is growing the luxury brand that has built its reputation on towering high heels into a full-fledged fashion house. (AP Photo/Dominic Lipinski, Pool, FILE) (Dominic Lipinski - AP)
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By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 4:27 PM

NEW YORK -- Jimmy Choo's heart and soul - and sole, too - belongs to a woman. Tamara Mellon is growing the luxury brand that has built its reputation on towering high heels into a full-fledged fashion house.

She works on it every single day, she says, and she lives it, too.

She is jet-setter, with her stylish leather luggage (and the wet wipes tucked in her weekender - as she's also a bit of a germophobe); she is business executive, recently being named a business ambassador by British Prime Minister David Cameron; she's eager creative sponge, one season becoming an expert on the life and times of Blondie's Deborah Harry, who was her inspiration; and she's single mother, who wears Uggs or Wellies, depending on the weather, to the park to play with her 8-year-old daughter.

However, as a can-do person, Mellon tackled that whole comfort-mom wardrobe thing head-on, working with both Uggs and Hunter to develop Jimmy Choo-cross branded products that would meet her own style standards.

Her shoes, wardrobe, hair and makeup each time she walks out the door can't be an afterthought, says Mellon. She's wearing a leopard-print sheath and pointy-toe patent pumps on this day for an interview in a plush private room at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship on Fifth Avenue before a public appearance to promote the new Choo fragrance.

"I do have to think about how I look - and it's really in you or it isn't if you care - but I have to be the brand," she says. It's not all black tie and red carpet, mind you, she says, although those are the photos people will see. But when she goes to the office, the outfit will still be chic, fashion-forward and "on the right side of sexy" - complemented with her biker boots.

Anamaria Wilson, fashion news director for Harper's Bazaar, says Mellon's stamp is all over every piece. "The collection is chic and refined, but with a sexy sensibility - much like Tamara herself."

If she wouldn't wear something, there's really no point in offering it to other women, right? Mellon wonders aloud. "If you think you can rely on some sort of science for all this, you will make a mistake. Fashion is about emotion. It's about, `What do I want?' and `What do women want?'"

Considering the number of shoppers lined up to speak to Mellon on Saks' first floor - definitely dozens - it seems Mellon hears regularly from customers. They want fashion advice, style tips and even guidance on what shoes to wear for their wedding day.

Her answer - to all of them: "My favorite thing to tell people is, `Dare to do it and don't be afraid.'"

Mellon was accessories editor at British Vogue back in 1996 when she sensed the opening for a new collection of luxury-label shoes to rival the likes of Manolo Blahnik. Jimmy Choo, the man, had a reputation of craftsmanship for his small couture-level business based in East London.

They launched the brand together, moving production to Italy and courting retailers as well as opening their own boutique. Equinox Luxury Holdings bought him out of his share in 2001, and in 2007, a private equity firm bought a majority of shares, although Mellon retains creative control.

She knew she had a success on her hands, er, feet, when, in 1998, a flood of boxes arrived at the Motcomb Street store and she was surrounded by what she felt were little works of wearable art. "That's when my vision came to life," Mellon says. "I can still get that excited - you know when you get that rush when you feel you've got it right."

Mellon says it took years to develop the fragrance because it had to be the perfect blend, one that she thinks she and her customers will want to wear on a daily basis for years to come. She wanted it "sensual - and not weak in any way," she explains, ultimately settling on a scent dominated by orchid and patchouli notes.

She'll spray it on every time she's about to disembark a plane to her next destination, hoping it'll become part of the signature style that is Tamara Mellon - and Jimmy Choo.


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