"I had the idea to start Jimmy Choo when I was an assistant at British Vogue in the early ‘90s. I got fired for taking too many drugs; I started not functioning properly. So I went to rehab and after that started Jimmy Choo with a loan from my dad. It took a long time to convince him, he wasn’t just going to give me the money. But as he saw my business plans and the whole thing start coming together he was like ‘OK.’ I just felt it. I caught the wave of accessories exploding, because back then it was only Manolo Blahnik, there weren’t all the shoes and bags we have today. So we started Jimmy Choo and business grew and 15 years later it sold for $800 million.
It was all about gut for me. I failed everything at school and I didn’t go to college. [Laughs] But they’ve done all this research now and figured out that the most successful entrepreneurs have something called EQ, which is high emotional intelligence. You need IQ just to open the doors, but the successful entrepreneurs have high EQ. Obviously you need some level of IQ as well to be successful, but EQ is about how you manage people, thinking outside of the box, having a sense for what’s going on, taking risks…
I will say that it was so incredibly difficult to be a female in charge. As a woman people patronize you and think that you can’t know what you’re doing, that it must be the men around you making the decisions—especially in the finance world. I just wrote a book, In My Shoes, to inspire young entrepreneurs and help young women in business. It’s hard being a mother and a professional! I’m actually setting up a new foundation with my new brand focusing on pay equality, and fighting gender discrimination and the sex slave trade. I still work with Elton [John] for the AIDS foundation, but I’ve asked he put money raised by me in a separate pot for women and children. The more women become educated the more they have their independence, it’s actually better for the economy—the whole country will get richer.
A few years ago I decided it was time to leave Jimmy Choo and I felt like I could take the risk and it was time to do it all over again with my own brand. I moved to New York from London so my daughter could grow up closet to her dad, and I’ve been here for five years now. I love it. Everyone is much more groomed here than in England. For the five years that I was at Vogue no one even got manicures! We always were wearing makeup, but it wasn’t a lot. All that stuff is new in England. Nobody schedules blow-dries.
My approach to beauty is still pretty simple, actually. I use everything from high to low. Since forever I’ve been washing my face with the Dove soap bar. I love my Dove soap. It’s soft, it doesn’t damage your skin, and every dermatologist recommends it—either that or Cetaphil. I’m not a beauty snob, you don’t need to wash your face with something expensive. My skin is very dry, and I found that the best moisturizer is called Cerave Facial Moisturizing Lotion, which you can get it at CVS. I exfoliate every day, morning or night, whatever. I think that makes my skin glow. I’ll use anything to exfoliate; I bought one from Simple the other day at the drugstore. I have one here from Epicurean, or I use Clarins. And that’s all I do! I can’t handle a long process. I’ve tried before buying all these things that you have to wash with and tone and moisturize and use whatever primer and eye cream. I will do it for two days and then I don’t do it anymore, it’s such a waste. I’m just too lazy; I can’t be bothered. Plus I don’t know if it really makes a difference. It’s all about keeping your skin clean and hydrated.
I use the Cerave moisturizer every day for my body, too. It’s amazing. Though I can’t be bothered to do exfoliating on my body. I do take baths all the time, less now that I have lived in New York for a while, but I used to take a bath every night, even during the summer. I was brought up with it. It’s very relaxing. Tea and baths are very English.
So skin for me is simple, but makeup’s a different story—I have a ton of makeup. [Laughs] I carry all my essentials in my bag—I use the Almay Get Up And Grow Mascara in Black because I like hypoallergenic things around my eyes. They’re quite sensitive. If I have a big event I will probably use something else like a Dior or Tom Ford, but for everyday I like to keep it quite gentle. The Almay is fragrance-free and everything. Then I use this Almay Intense I-Color Defining Liner in Charcoal. It’s got glitter in it; I love a little sparkle. And again, I found it at the CVS! I just cruise around the aisles looking for products; I’ve always done that. Then for my lips I use the Almay Color and Care Liquid Lip Balm. It’s amazing because it’s so moisturizing. It’s great for the winter when your lips are dry. And I have this Smashbox Blush Rush in Bare [ed note: shade discontinued]. It’s good if you want a little cheek.
It takes around 15 minutes for me to do my makeup. If I’m in the office I don’t always have it on—maybe I will just use a bit of the Almay Smart Shade tinted moisturizer and mascara. If I have to go out from the office I will just put on a red lip. I love red lipstick because it’s so easy—you don’t have to do anything else. Nars is my favorite; I use Dragon Girl and Cruella Velvet Matte Lip Pencil. I also use one called Luxembourg Satin Lip Pencil. And I love the reds from Tom Ford, but they’re just nice to have because I love the packaging. I have an 11-year-old daughter and she’s pushing the boundaries right now with makeup so I’m always like, ‘Get that red lip off!’ [Laughs] Right now I will let her do just a little bit of mascara, a gloss, and sometimes a cheek. If she wants to do an eye shadow I try to keep it to a white, transparent glittery color.
I suppose when it comes to makeup my red nails and red lips are my thing. These are my real nails. I have really strong nails. I put gel on top, but even without the gel you can’t bend my thumbnail at all it’s so strong. I eat a lot of protein so I guess that might be why? [Laughs] I love long red nails, I’ve had them probably for the last two or three years. My favorites are Jin Soon in Coquette and Obsidian. I also like Deborah Lippmann Pump Up The Jam and Dark Side of the Moon. Sometimes I will do different things like just a red tip with a nude. I go to Bloomie Nails, which is right around the corner, or I have this amazing woman named Chi who comes to my house and does gel for me. Sometimes I will do a navy nail with a glitter one or something like that, but my staple is the red. And I always like to match my toes to my fingers.
I have a lot of hair and it’s very thick. I use Kerastase shampoo and conditioner or I will use Santa Maria Novella Honey Hair Cream conditioner, which is really good. They sell out of their stuff all the time so I have to find and order it online. If I leave my hair to dry naturally it will go curly, which I love in the summer, or I’ll blow-dry it straight. Sometimes I’ll have my friend Frankie do it, but normally I just do it myself. I literally just blow it, no products or things like that. I don’t use them; I hate having product in my hair. I do color because I started to go gray in the front. It was during a point in my life when I was really stressed out and literally the front of my head just went gray, like, overnight.
I’ve worn Diptyque L’Ombre Dans L’Eau fragrance forever, it’s my go-to and I’m obsessed with the smell. That was all I wore for 10 years and then literally in the last few months I’ve broken out and tried different things. It’s a huge change to switch your fragrance! I guess starting a new brand was a new chapter in my life and it came with that. I had never worn red lipstick before either, but I started wearing red lipstick and tried new fragrances. I think I wore the Diptyque for the longest time because I don’t like mass-produced perfumes, I like to find special things of really good quality. Lyn Harris of Miller Harris in London makes all of these amazing scents herself. Also I love the Inez and Vinoodh one—1996 Byredo. It’s so good. Another thing I have is Joy by Jean Patou. It’s something I wore in my twenties and it’s still delicious. He’s one of the best noses ever. I love Tom Ford’s fragrances, and also Santa Maria Novella's. I put the Gold Musk next to my bed because I spray it on at night to go to sleep. I’m obsessed with their other smells as well. They have this great olive oil soap and I have their Potpourri Wax Tablet that I put in my closet, which lasts for years. The company started in Florence 400 years ago and they say it was monks who created it. Originally it was for medicinal purposes, making cures for different things, and then they began making these lovely fragrances. When it comes to things I use every day, I love the story behind a brand first and foremost. I like authenticity; it has to feel real to me."
—as told to ITG
Tamara Mellon photographed by Emily Weiss on January 28, 2014 in New York. Check out her new brand at TamaraMellon.com