Cannes Lions: Footwear Queen Tamara Mellon on Rehab, Bankruptcy and Reinvention at 50

Courtesy of John Salangsang/BFA.com

The co-founder of Jimmy Choo spoke about her train-wreck lifestyle and why she still has "impostor syndrome."

For the cynical, the former party girl turned footwear queen Tamara Mellon’s recipe for success goes like this:

Take one raging alcoholic mother. Throw in your own cocaine abuse. Add your firing from Vogue. Co-found iconic company Jimmy Choo. Mix in marriage to a billionaire drug addict who will later die on his way to rehab. Weather the embarrassing bankruptcy of your eponymous label in 2013.

Then wind up nailing $24 million from investors this month for a new incarnation of your pioneering, direct-to-consumer Italian shoe brand.

Wearing her own $450 Heroine-Haircalf stiletto sandals, who better to take center stage at “F’UCKUPS – The Mother of Reinvention” at Cannes Lions than Mellon, 50, who at once seemed headed more in the direction of Lindsay Lohan or Heather Locklear than businesswoman extraordinaire.

But despite making headlines on June 5 for scoring a new infusion of cash for a thriving company that failed just a few years ago, she said she still struggles with confidence.

“I have impostor syndrome,” she said. “All women have impostor syndrome. I didn’t go to college and still wish I had my MBA.”

What’s important, said Mellon, invoking the recent indictment of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes on wire fraud charges, is to “not hide what you did” if you mess up -- and “have your own identity and stand by that.”

In person, Mellon comes across less like the flashy train wreck who once leveraged her mediagenic self-destructiveness for publicity (see also her 2013 memoir In My Shoes) and more like a humble, battle-scarred survivor of a cutthroat business.

There was even a sadness to her on Tuesday that belied the spirit she showed in her bitter fight -- and ultimate triumph -- with British investors who accused her of stealing from her own company, Tamara Mellon Brand, in 2016. She accused them of bullying her and said, memorably, “They don’t know a stiletto from a Cornetto.”

As she spoke with former Disney marketing head MT Carney at Cannes, Mellon often smiled at her 16-year-old daughter, Amarinta “Minty” Mellon, who was sitting in the front row. Minty is her daughter with Matthew Mellon, heir to the Mellon banking family, who died in April just before checking himself into rehab in Mexico.

“Being fired from Vogue in 1995 gave me the impetus to turn my life around,” Mellon said. “I was ready to be sober. I was scared of the path I was going down.”

Mellon said she uses the tools she learned in Alcoholics Anonymous, especially the Serenity Prayer, and added, “Rehab is the best thing I ever did.”

Her company is 95 percent female, she said, and she credits its turnaround with no longer having “non-believer” investors around. She urged the aspiring start-up founders in the audience to “seek out angel investors, have a vision, be resilient and don’t be afraid to fail.”

In addition, she advised ignoring what is written about you.

“I don’t read it and I don’t believe it,” she said. “Especially the good press. Don’t believe that, either.”