Designer Tamara Mellon talks with Alina Cho about the launch of her eponymous label in a Southampton pop-up this season.
Although her name was never on the door, everyone in fashion—and beyond—knew that Tamara Mellon helped create the revered global shoe brand Jimmy Choo. After selling her stake in the business and taking some much-needed time off, Mellon is back with her own eponymous fashion house that’s created, among other things, a craze for a certain leather fringe skirt. This season, the Tamara Mellon brand is planting a flag in the Hamptons. The fashion designer talks to us about her new pop-up, designing the uniforms for Blade helicopter service, and making a home in the Hamptons.
Let’s talk about Southampton. You’re doing a pop-up [store]? Yes! It’s our first physical space.
Why the Hamptons? I decided that all my customers are in the Hamptons, so a pop-up is a great way to start without taking the risk of a full store and permanent rent. It’s just a way for a new, young brand to get into the market. And we’re going to have a lot of “buy now, wear now” stuff, because a big complaint that I hear from women is that by the time they think about what they want to wear for the summer, everything has already been on sale and it’s gone. So if they’ve forgotten something, or if they need something for a dinner, they can run in and get an outfit or accessories they can wear right away.
Like sandals or a sundress? Exactly. On a Wednesday, a woman may think about what she’s going to wear on Saturday night, but that’s the furthest she’ll think ahead. She’s not going to think about what she’s going to be wearing in four months. So I’m trying to cater to that [immediate] need. Because I know myself. Usually when November rolls around, I think, Ugh, I need a new coat; I’m freezing. [But when I get to the store,] there’s nothing left. I’m trying to give women what they want when they want it.
“I love that the Hamptons is much more focused on kids and family, which is really nice. And the beach, is just so beautiful.” —Tamara Mellon
Let’s talk about the brand [Tamara Mellon].It’s been in existence for… Two years. It’s still a baby.
But you’ve come a long way, baby. I mean, I think it’s safe to say that your leather fringe skirt… It’s just been such a hit. And it’s still going [strong].
What do you think it is about that skirt? For me, a lot about fashion is timing; it’s having the right thing at the right time. I did fringe bags at Jimmy Choo years ago, and they didn’t hit in a way that fringe is hitting now. People just weren’t ready for it. And the bags were beautiful. But the fringe moment—we just hit the fringe moment absolutely right [this time]. And that skirt, whether we make it in leather or suede or any color, it sells out.
One piece of advice your father gave you was that the magic number was 51 [meaning you must always own more than 50 percent of your business]. At Jimmy Choo, I did three private-equity deals, and then the fourth sale was to a luxury-goods group. I cashed out a little bit along the way to [the point that] I wasn’t in control of the business. And I learned that it’s very, very important to be in control of your business as the founder. If you sell control, you end up feeling like a guest in your own house.
So your advice to emerging designers is… Keep control. Keep control.
The other exciting thing you’re working on is uniforms for [the Hamptons helicopter service] Blade. We’re doing some very sexy-looking uniforms. Obviously, [the employees] need to look like they’re in a uniform, but the uniform should also look good enough that you could go out to dinner [in it].
It’s like a sexy flight suit. Yes, yes. We have the romper version and the jumpsuit version in white denim, and actually, the uniforms are going to be available for sale.
You’ve had your home in Bridgehampton for three years. Why did you decide to buy out East? It’s interesting. When I first came to the Hamptons, it was such a culture shock. Growing up in Europe and spending summers [there], taking two-hour flights to Italy, to the South of France, to Ibiza, to Spain—it’s a very different culture. You go to the beach in the South of France and there are restaurants, there are sun beds, and there are people serving drinks, and you have lunch. I arrived in the Hamptons, I went to the beach, and I was like, “Where’s the restaurant? Where’s everybody serving drinks? What’s going on here?” I was like, “I hate that I have to take a lunch box. I have to take an ice box?”
That’s so funny.I would have never thought of that, but, of course, it’s totally different. I know! Now I absolutely love it. I love that it’s different. I love that the Hamptons is much more focused on kids and family, which is really nice. And the beach is just so beautiful. I was driving through Wainscott the other morning, going to meet a friend at 8 am—not my finest hour, that is for sure. But it was so breathtakingly beautiful. And I get to do so many different activities with my daughter. She rides competitively, so we spend a lot of time watching her.
Will she ride in The Hampton Classic? Yes, she won reserve champion last year.
Wow. And she’s only 13? Yes. I’m a very proud mom.
Do you come out East year-round? We use the house year-round. I love it in the winter as well. The cute little restaurants with fireplaces, and it’s cozy. I love it.
One last thing: I read your memoir, In My Shoes, in two nights. I’m a book editor now at Random House. Would you ever do another book? Yes, I might.
Would you do it with me? Absolutely! 16 Hill St., Southampton