Tamara Mellon celebrated the launch of her new online shoe venture, and her relocation to Los Angeles, on Tuesday with a breakfast at the art-filled home she shares with fiancé Michael Ovitz in Beverly Hills.
Amidst Ovitz’s prized collection of works by the likes of Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Andy Warhol, Mellon displayed the first collection of her relaunched line, which she changed to a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business model after its first iteration as a traditional wholesale brand went bankrupt.
Of her new tech start-up and her new Los Angeles life (she and Ovitz got engaged last December and she moved west a few months ago), Mellon said, “I really feel like the energy is moving west. There are so many new start-ups, particularly tech. It’s very much run like that now and I think the fashion industry is going through a digital revolution very much like we saw music, TV, film, even Uber with taxis. Tech eventually is going to eat every industry if you don’t adapt and change and that’s what I’m doing with this business. I’m setting this up for the next 20 years.”
Although her shoes are still Italian-made the old-fashioned way, the mode in which they are distributed has changed, as has the way her customer shops. “The psychology of the customer changed long before the industry did,” Mellon noted. “The customer is way ahead of the fashion industry. She wanted to buy online a long time ago. She doesn’t care about season or collections. She wants to buy something today and wear it tomorrow. And that’s how the fashion industry has to adapt.”
Melon herself had to adapt quickly. “I had to learn a whole new business language I didn’t know before about selling online and different metrics of how you value a customer or sale,” she said.
Co-founder and chief executive officer Jill Layfield comes from a pure-play e-commerce business, outdoor retail group BackCountry.com, where she took revenues from $27 million to $550 million in 10 years.
While the high-end shoe business differs from sporting gear – Mellon sells both the classic “Collection” and directional capsules called “Lab” – she is poised to make a profit.
“What I love is we don’t have to have crazy margins in there to accommodate putting it through a wholesale channel, which means now I’m able to sell quality product at half the price that I used to,” she said. The collection ranges from $325 to $1,495 with 60 percent of the styles under $500. “We can now sell to a broader audience. The customer is so educated now, they understand what the markup is, so they know it’s a smart buy.”
She also thinks capsule collections are the future. “Obviously you can’t change your whole inventory every month, but you can put things out frequently in limited quantities that allow a designer to be really creative without taking a huge financial risk. We will test things, and if something is not working we will take it down and put something new up.”
Layfield said they plan to do more in-person events as well – Mellon’s first outing at Paul Allen’s Sun Valley, Idaho, retreat was a success and the brunch was equally glamorous, with Alexandra von Furstenberg, Constance Zimmer, Rachel Roy and Sara Foster all shopping for shoes. “We will be O-to-O, online-to-offline, because you can’t just be one channel anymore,” she said.
For her official launch party, Mellon wanted to host at home because “it feels more intimate, more personal and more relaxed.” Indeed, everyone was barefoot or wearing white cotton slippers because of Ovitz’ no-shoes rule.
“It’s a perfect backdrop really for the shoes, and the irony is I live in a no-shoes house,” she laughed.