Tamara Mellon

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"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.

CAREER

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.

SKINCARE

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.

MAKEUP

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.

NAILS

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.

HAIR

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.

FRAGRANCE

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

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • tera

    my heart stopped when I saw the closet. !!!

    • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

      By goodnesss you can practically do laps in that thing! Amazing.

  • Bella

    A strong, beautiful woman, a Nars freak like myself, but all I can think is what a heavenly bathroom and walk-in closet those are!!!! I'll be sure to check out the book. I appreciate her candour...admitting the reason she was fired, and that her start-up was funded by her dad. A lot of interviewees try to pretend that their great start was just a series of happy accidents, hard work and raw talent, which it may have been, but which primarily happened because they found themselves in a very favourable setting to begin with. I loved Jimmy Choo during the Tamara years and keep an eye on her new brand, too.

    • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

      Love this comment, Bella. I appreciated her realness, too. Honesty goes a long way.

    • http://www.clevergirlreviews.com/ Clever Girl Reviews

      I also admire her realness. Coming from a wealthy family sure helps get the ball rolling. I do love that even though she's immensely wealthy half of her products are drugstore!

      • dana

        Yeah, she does seem very honest but probably someone should mention that she is or was on the board of directors for Revlon, which also owns Almay.

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    Interesting woman....and what a success story. She's not the first -- and certainly won't be the last -- college dropout/non-attendee that hit the big time. I think that's what's kind of refreshing about the more creative occupations. In science, say, it's very nearly an impossibility to succeed and climb the Latter of Utmost Potential and Success, sans PhD or "proper schooling." In fashion and the like....not so much. So while I think attending university is highly important -- and certainly personally imperative -- I appreciate the way in which creative industries have given platforms to those who are geniuses in different ways, such as the EQ facet Ms. Mellon spoke of. And with tuition fees teetering around $60-70k at many schools (the main reason I declined offers at "fancy" U.S. private colleges/universities...both morally and financially my family and I felt it wrong to buy into such a corrupt system), there's no way that the best, brightest, and most creative pupils can always afford to get a degree from a highly name-brand school.

    If every single last one of us went to college and sat through largely similar lectures from largely similar professors, I think the world would lack some serious creativity gained from other perspectives. And by god are we already lacking crucial things like drinking water and cleaner air. We can't afford to lose brilliant, quirky, and creative brain power, either.

    • JY

      I'm starting college this fall. I want to be an actress. The problem? I've never acted in anything before. When I start school, I'll start auditioning for roles, for both local theater companies and TV/movies. If I can make a living from it, I'll drop out of school. Otherwise, I'll stay in school and get a boring degree as a backup plan.
      My parents are incredibly hardworking and successful. They earn a lot of money yet really improve people's lives as doctors. They want me to have a real job with substantial pay and job security. So doctor, engineer, lawyer, businesswoman. I've only mentioned once, offhand, my interest in acting. I think they've already forgotten.
      Out of curiosity, what are you planning to do after high school?

      • Guest

        @JY STAY IN SCHOOL! I can't stress this enough.

        The Tamara Mellons of the world (and you should Google that surname if you don't already know it) are few and far between -- just like young men in the inner cities of America who think that their futures lie in the NBA or the NFL. I grew up with some of those boys -- they are now middle-aged men who are still dreaming and feel that the best days of their lives were in high school. Sad.

        Your education is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. And if your parents are fortunate enough to be able to pay for it, I think it's almost a moral affront to refuse it.

        Listen, I work in a creative field (I own a photography studio) but I was an attorney for many years and a teacher before that. I would not trade my education for anything. And if you are serious about acting, or any other art for that matter, you bring the sum total of both your life experiences and your education to your craft. Do not buy into the notion that you dn't need an education. If you do, you will have the rest of your life to regret it. "Substantial pay and job security" seem like bizarre, old-school notions when you're 18. When you're 45 and don't have either of those things, the world is a damn scary place indeed.

        • Emily

          A lovely reply. And Tamara is fab.

          With regard to her surname, I have to point out that she is not from the Mellon family; she married Matthew Mellon (they are now divorced I believe) and so when she mentions her father he is not a Mellon. Her maiden name was Yeardye, I think.

  • conni boykins

    major bathroom envy

  • heysarajean

    This woman is a powerhouse. I'm completely inspired!

  • mlle p

    Incredible closet and stunner of a bath! I recently read her book and it was so honest. I always like when people can appreciate both the drugstore and the high end brands of products, too! Good luck to her new venture.

  • Jay Kanderi

    The Tamara Mellon uses Cetaphil, Cerave and Dove... Wow!!!

  • http://behindthemirrorbeauty.com/ Behind the Mirror

    Great Post! Really enjoyed learning about her skincare routine!

  • bluesky557

    CeraVe is the bomb. As good as (actually probably better than) any expensive, fancy brand!

    Also, I'm impressed and inspired by her work for pay equality and gender discrimination, as well as fighting the sex slave trade. I hope she can use her platform for good!

  • Cat

    CeraVe has saved my skin from eczema. I use the face and body products daily. Their eye cream is amazing!

    • eastvillagesiren

      yup. the eye cream is awesome after swimming. they just came out with a baby line...i've been looking for that body wash in every cvs in nyc ; )

  • A Karina Zatarain

    Is no one going to mention how great it is that she's such a feminist? I love seeing women reach the top, and even more so when they use their power to help other women get there as well. Very cool of her!

    • http://badoutfitgreatlipstick.blogspot.com Nae

      I am always glad when people are willing to say, "I'm a feminist." With so many celebrities acting like feminism is a bad thing and a dirty word, this is refreshing and just plain fantastic.

  • Liz

    I loveeeeeeee that she's a drugstore/Revlon junkie like I am.

  • Yes World Boutique

    Tamara Mellon's success story is inspirational! She most definitely lives a #yeslifestyle !

  • http://www.stevenwolffinearts.com marcella

    she is smart and real. and doesn't shy away from being a feminist. and loves ceraVe!!! great profile, itg!

  • mary

    I love this Top Shelf! She is refreshing and just seems like a good person. I really admire her focus on helping others, especially women. Also love her CVS beauty buys! Sometimes the long lists of expensive products in Top Shelf interviews are just depressingly inaccessible. Very inspiring! Thank you ITG.

  • Theresa Won

    LOVE this! She has such a real, refreshing, intelligent approach to her life and business. Super inspiring and empowering Top Shelf!

  • thunderlegz

    I love these high powered career women! Mas, por favor!

  • pamb

    Yeah for the drugstore products!

  • JY

    Good luck to you too

  • http://mayashawcollection.tumblr.com/ Maya

    I love Tamara! I still need to read her book!

  • Seline

    Use Lupita Nyongo as an inspiration. The woman graduated from Harvard! Damn if her career goes downwards she has a back up plan

PRODUCTS MENTIONED

Dove
Dove Bar Soap
Cetaphil
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
CeraVe
CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM SPF 30
Simple
Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub
Epicuren
Epicuren Micro-Derm Ultra-Refining Scrub
Almay
Almay Get Up and Grow Mascara
Almay
Almay Intense i-Color Defining Liner
Almay
Almay Color + Care Liquid Lip Balm
Almay
Almay Smart Shade Skin Tone Matching Makeup
Smashbox
Smashbox Blush Rush
NARS
NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil
NARS
NARS Satin Lip Pencil
Tom Ford
Tom Ford Private Blend Lipstick
Jin Soon
Jin Soon Nail Lacquer
Deborah Lippmann
Deborah Lippmann Nail Lacquer
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella Honey Hair Cream
diptyque
Diptyque L'Ombre dans L'Eau
Byredo
Byredo 1996 Inez & Vinoodh
Jean Patou
Joy by Jean Patou Parfum
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella Eau de Cologne
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella Rose Wax Tablets
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