It girl turned sole trader makes millions as Jimmy Choo deal is sealed

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Tamara Mellon, the former It girl and fashion PR, yesterday saw a £150,000 loan from her father turn into a £50m fortune when the Jimmy Choo shoes business was bought by the American group that owns such relatively humdrum brands as Weetabix and Ambrosia rice pudding.

Tamara Mellon, the former It girl and fashion PR, yesterday saw a £150,000 loan from her father turn into a £50m fortune when the Jimmy Choo shoes business was bought by the American group that owns such relatively humdrum brands as Weetabix and Ambrosia rice pudding.

Mrs Mellon's shoes are the essential fashion accessories of royalty and Hollywood celebrities alike and have come to rival other to-die-for shoe brands such as Manolo Blahnik.

With the most expensive pairs selling for £1,000 and the cheaper shoes walking out of her 27 stores for £250 each, Mrs Mellon has developed Jimmy Choo into one of the world's leading fashion brands in just seven years.

Every self-respecting celebrity owns a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, from Emma Thompson to Halle Berry and, of course, the Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker. In an interview with Time magazine recently, Mrs Mellon said: "I may not have the stereotypical head for business, but I have feet that were made for heels."

Since the 35-year-old opened the first Jimmy Choo shop in 1997 in Motcomb Street, London she has expanded to all the world's richest cities including Beverly Hills, New York and Las Vegas. The company now has sales of £40m and yesterday a US private equity fund - Hicks Muse - bought a 51 per cent stake in the business.

The deal values the entire company at £101m and leaves Mrs Mellon and a small number of her management colleagues holding 49 per cent at a value of £49.5m. Mrs Mellon, who styles herself president of the company, is understood to be the biggest beneficiary by far.

Although the company still bears his name, the original Jimmy Choo, a couture shoemaker from the East End, sold out in 2001 when the company was worth £21m. Mr Choo still has a licence to use his name but only for his exclusive couture designs. Since he departed three years ago, the business has grown five times in value and Mrs Mellon has expanded into handbags and other accessories.

A former accessories editor at Vogue in the 1990s, Mrs Mellon also had stints as a fashion PR in the 1980s but decided to start her shoe business with Jimmy Choo in 1996 and persuaded her father, the late Tommy Yeardye, who co-founded the Vidal Sassoon hair products empire, to lend her £150,000 to get going.

As well as having a good eye for a shoe, Mrs Mellon has also been able to use her celebrity status among the London party elite to market her products. A regular in the gossip columns, her tumultuous personal life has kept her and her shoes in the limelight.

Last year she was briefly separated from her husband, Matthew Mellon, the heir to an American banking and oil fortune, after having an affair with Oscar Humphries, the 22-year-old son of the comedian Barry Humphries. Her husband blamed himself for the marital strife, saying the affair was his fault after he had slipped back into drug use during a holiday in Ibiza. Their wedding in 1998 was a lavish affair at Blenheim Palace and the couple embarked on the sort of jet-set life you would expect from people who are close friends with the likes of Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan.

Now Mrs Mellon is planning to expand the Jimmy Choo empire even further. In the next four years she intends to expand the number of stores from 27 to 50 and will continue to run the business alongside Robert Bensoussan, the company's chief executive.

WHO CHOOS?

IN THE world of stilettos, Manolo Blahnik makes the most beautiful, Christian Louboutin the most fashionable and Gina the highest. Jimmy Choo, meanwhile, has the glitziest client list.

Tamara Mellon's product, with its barely there look - Choos tend to leave the foot almost naked - won the loyalty of dozens of celebrities including Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Renée Zellweger and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Just as an Olympic sprinter requires specialist footwear, so the Hollywood starlet needs to be shod correctly for the business of posing for photographers and standing on red carpets.

Glossy-maned and well-connected, Mellon was perfectly positioned to know exactly what the celebrity foot demanded: two diamanté-encrusted narrow straps perched atop a spindly 10cm heel.

And thanks to the power of celebrity, scores of ordinary women from Beverly Hills to Basildon have paid £300 a pair for their very own Choos - to the dismay of chiropodists and vertically challenged men the world over. Ms Mellon, however, is walking tall.

Susie Rushton

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