Jimmy Choo is a Malaysian shoe designer, born in 1961, who studied at the London College of Fashion, and set up his business in a small studio in London's East End. His name was actually "Jimmy Chow", but the registrar incorrectly spelt his name on his birth certificate. One can wonder if the brand would have been so successful if it had been called "Jimmy Chow" instead! Jimmy Choo was the latest in a long line of shoemakers from his family, and had created his first "Choo" at the tender age of 12.
The Jimmy Choo Company was a successful business, but had yet to reach the dizzy heights of global domination. Enter Tamara Mellon. Tamara Mellon had worked on Vogue magazine, initially as an accessories editor. Being in the fashion world, and being altogether a bit of a smart cookie, she was sufficiently on the ball to spot a gap in the market for luxury designer handmade shoes when she met Jimmy Choo in 1996.
Tamara Mellon was fortunate enough to have a very rich man as her daddy. Her father was Tommy Yeardye, who had founded Vidal Sassoon. Thanks to an investment from Tommy Yeardye, Mellon was able to invest £150,000 pounds in Choo's company to become a partner in it. As the brand became increasingly popular, Mellon saw the scope for global expansion and in 2001 she made a deal with Robert Bensoussan of Equinox Luxury Holdings to buy out Choo's interest in the company for a cool £10 million - the company at this time was valued at £21 million. Jimmy Choo himself is no longer part of the company, although he continues to design haute couture handmade shoes under licence. He has been awarded an OBE by the Queen for his services to the fashion industry. Choo's niece, Sandra Choi, still designs shoes for the company together with Mellon.
In 2004, the company was bought for £101 million by Hicks Muse, a company known for its buyouts of well known brands including Weetabix, Typhoo Tea and BT's Yellow Pages. Hicks Muse now own over 75% of the company, with Mellon and other partners retaining sizeable interests. Mellon has stayed on with the company although she doesn't need to work to survive - her original 49% stake in the company will be worth around £50 million on paper. Robert Bensoussan has also stayed on as chief executive. This deal finally went through during the first week of February 2007.
Now Jimmy Choo makes a global style statement. It has more than 25 stores around the world, and also outlets in prestigious stores worldwide including Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Stores have recently opened as far afield as Japan and Thailand, and there are plans for this year to open additional stores in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Jakarta. (Editor's note: we're still waiting for one to be opened in Middlesbrough.) Fortunately for Mellon, the launch of Jimmy Choo in the US coincided with the screening of "Sex in the City", where the character Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is addicted to the brand. The product range now includes handbags and sales have been increasing by 50% a year. Under Hicks Muse, a further expansion of the brand into leather accessories is in the pipeline.
The February 2007 buyout by Hicks Muse has laid bare a feud between Jimmy Choo the designer and Tamara Mellon, according to the Daily Mail. Apparently the pair loathe each other, and Choo maintains that Mellon's domineering style forced him out of his own business in 2001. He finds it aggravating that she continues to take the credit for the business that he founded - he was a sought after haute couture shoe designer with Princess Diana as one of his clients before Tamara and her money joined him. However, she apparently refers to him as an "East End cobbler". He is understood to have also fallen out with his niece, Sandra Choi. Although Ms Choi stayed on as a designer originally, apparently she too has fallen foul of Ms Mellon's exacting standards. Tamara's relentless boardroom style have apparently earned her the nickname "Mellonoma". (Although recent rumours of her having undergone a face lift and boob job in preparation for her 40th birthday may have made the nickname "The Big Mellons" more appropriate in my view - ed).
Tamara herself, despite her financial fortune, has not been lucky in love. However, since her divorce in 2005 she has been linked to names including Robbie Williams, Kid Rock, Flavio Briatore and Joe Francis.