Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Your Jimmy Choos aren't.

27. The Towering World of Jimmy Choo: A Glamorous Story of Power, Profits, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Shoe, by Lauren Goldstein Crowe and Sagra Maceira de Rosen

Jimmy Choo, the shoemaker, hasn't had anything to do with Jimmy Choo, the shoes, for quite a while now. That's what this book is about - the way a small, artisanal shoemaking company catering to a select group of wealthy women was turned into an international luxury ready-to-wear brand featured on television and the red carpet.

One of Mr. Choo's customers was a young woman named Tamara Yeardye, a socialite with business in her blood. She saw the potential of the business, and used her social and business connections to raise the funds to capitalize on it. Convincing Mr. Choo, though, was even harder, but she did. The saga of Jimmy Choo (the company) is a microcosm of the world of start-ups, IPOs, leveraged buyouts, private equity firms, all the pieces that made up the financial picture of the late '90s and early 2000s. And it's also the story of some very powerful personalities, and how their personal lives and scandals affected the company.

Honestly, I wasn't sure I was going to like this book. The blurbs, and certainly the first chapter, read like a gossip magazine. But slowly and inexorably I was drawn in by the vivid way the authors describe the financial machinations, the growth of the company through multiple sales, the dealmaking. It's easy to be misled by the initial portrait of Tamara Yeardye Mellon posing in "cleavage and stiletto shoes" by her nude photograph. Despite her social butterfly image, and the very real scandals she was involved in, she is one smart, driven and ambitious cookie.

The authors are, respectively, a journalist specializing in fashion and luxury goods, and an equity analyst and founding partner of a private equity firm. It's not difficult to tell who wrote what, and the way in which the book bounces back and forth between Yeardye's personal pecadilloes and high finance is a bit distracting. Kudos, however, to Ms. Maceira de Rosen for explicating complicated financial dealings in a way that makes them clear and understandable to the lay person.

The story of Jimmy Choo is, to me, a sad one. True, he is now a wealthy man as the world measures wealth. But he and his niece (who had worked with him in his shop but now works with Yeardye Mellon) do not speak. And the man who, with his art and careful craft, made the beautiful shoes that first attracted Yeardye's attention now cannot use his own name without someone else's consent.

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