A person’s bookshelf is like the Myers-Briggs — it’s a reasonably accurate prediction into the subject’s passions and tics. There’s a reason why so many bankers love Liar’s Poker or why urban planning junkies adore The Power Broker.
Fashion lovers are no different.
If a woman loves her clothes, there’s a strong likelihood that she’s got a stash of books on the topic. The typical fashionista library includes picture-heavy selections like Grace Coddington’s eponymous memoir and the street style flip-books from The Sartorialist. (Runners up include Paris Street Style and The Fashionable Selby.)
Fashion tomes may seem fluffy — but I’ve found one that has some teeth.
I read Tamara Mellon’s In My Shoes: A Memoir last summer, and it swiftly shot to the top of my favorite fashion books. Tamara Mellon is best known for “discovering” Jimmy Choo when he was still running a one-off shoe cobbling business for private clients. She is often credited with catapulting Choo from the shadows of obscurity onto the soles of the Sex and the City cast. (Once SJP got her feet in a pair, the rest was history.)
But unlike most celebrity memoirs, this book is filled with substance instead of gossip, with searing insight into how a fledgling fashion company was created, financed and marketed. Both gossipy and savvy, the book is the most entertaining case study I’ve ever read. (The second most entertaining was this one about Chobani yogurt.)
Here are my top 3 key takeaways from Mellon’s book.
1. Mellon created the Choo “brand” during the lowest point of her personal life. After years of international partying, Mellon succumbed to addiction and lost her plum job at Vogue. While she was in rehab, she advantage of the downtime to plan her next move. That’s when she started digging into her Vogue network — and happened to remember the independent cobbler who sometimes provided shoes for Vogue shoots. An idea was born.
2. Mellon is not a designer — but she knows her customers. Mellon did not exactly design the Choo shoes — and frankly, neither did the brand’s namesake. (The actual sketching was done by Choo’s niece, Sandra Choi.) Instead, Mellon served as the brand’s DNA, dictating artistic direction and guiding the strappy, sexy aesthetic — all without ever touching a pen to a sketchpad. The shoes were informed by her customers’ innermost desires — the jobs they wanted, who they dreamed of dating, where they wanted to go on vacation. This type of deep brand understanding is legendary — and difficult to pull off. (Consider all the trouble Gucci got into once Tom Ford left the company — taking his laser-accurate vision of the Gucci woman with him.)
3. Fashion executives aren’t necessarily millionaires. Because Choo shoes are incredibly expensive, I assumed the fat margins were providing a healthy cushion for salaries, splashy marketing campaigns and publicity stunts (like encrusting shoes in real diamonds for a celebrity heading to the Oscars). Turns out, it costs a LOT to look like you don’t care about money, and Mellon was constantly having to ask for paycheck advances to make ends meet — while maintaining a certain “fah-bulous” patina.
This is just the tip of the iceberg — the book also includes insight into the nitty gritty of managing an international supply chain, tailoring B2B marketing at industry conferences and handling clashes with private equity firms. It’s truly a must-read for fashionistas and entrepreneurs alike.
Do you have a favorite fashion book? Please tell me about it so I can add it to my queue.