If you ever doubted the power of clothes to sustain, cheer and support, Tamara Mellon, former president of Jimmy Choo, can put you straight. As a 12-year-old English girl leading an outwardly privileged existence in Beverly Hills in the 70s, she found clothes were her sole diversion and one of her few solaces.
"If you looked in my bedroom there was nothing educational or cultural," she says. "Clothes were all my mother was interested in." Not that they ever provided a bond between the two.
These days, Mellon's home is in New York, although she's spending increasing time on the West Coast, where her boyfriend, Mike Ovitz, the formidable founder of Creative Artists Agency and a former president of Disney, has bases in LA and San Francisco. So we're sitting in her suite at Claridge's while she gets made up for a photoshoot.
Talk and pout: Mellon's the expert, having turned her glamorous lifestyle into the living embodiment of first Jimmy Choo and now, with her non-compete clause out of the way, her own brand.
This is the woman who, in 2007, during her daily appearances at Southwark Crown Court as a witness against her ex-husband Matthew Mellon (who was accused of hacking her computers), delighted the nation with her slick pencil skirts and ultra-high crocodile stilettos.
Looking back, Mellon says it was all she could do to put one foot in front of the other and thinks she took her eye off the ball style-wise during this period.
To the outside world, however, she was the picture of Mistress-of-the-Universe gutsy composure, all the more remarkable given the melodramatic meltdown of her personal life, which by rights should have been confined to an airport blockbuster. Her beloved father died in 2004. She divorced in 2005 after one too many of her husband's drug-fuelled disappearances, had to deal with a hostile takeover in 2006 and found herself in court again, this time facing her mother, in 2009.
Ah yes. Ann Yeardye. Mellon's relationship with her mother, a former Chanel model, was - massive understatement - not cosy. There were no thrashings with wire coat hangers, but, according to Tamara, there were plenty of barbed insults and cruel behaviour that culminated in daughter suing mother in 2009 for around $11.7 million - money that had been accidentally paid to Yeardye after the first sale of Jimmy Choo, the company Mellon had done much to build, almost from scratch.
Her father, Tom Yeardye, who had taken Vidal Sassoon products to the US and whom she idolised, seems to have kept the peace by distancing himself from the battles.
"He very much wanted us to appear the perfect family outwardly, so it was important to look nice, always," says Mellon.
"My mother would say I was ugly and stupid. In a dysfunctional home like that, clothes are how you come to value yourself. Also, they were the only thing I had to play with."
British boarding school - Heathfield - came as a relief, although the food was stodgy and the girls all wore "granny knickers". That wasn't a bad thing though, because what with her Calvin Kleins, her curling tongs and her style knowledge (this was a teenager accustomed to hanging out with Rudi Gernreich, infamous designer of the topless bathing suit, and his model muse Peggy Moffitt), Mellon became an instant guru, dispensing advice and winning popularity.
Clothes continued their hold. At finishing school in Switzerland - the same establishment attended by Diana, Princess of Wales - it was all miniskirts and apres-ski. At Browns, the exclusive London boutique where she went to work as a sales assistant, it was body-con Alaia on which she spent far more than she earned. At British Vogue, where she eventually became an accessories editor, Tamara Style coalesced.
The rest of us might have been doing grunge (it was the early 90s) but she was a short/tight-dressed, jewelled, sandalled party girl, permanently glossy, even when she'd been out all night.
She always had expensive tastes. In Beverly Hills it was Fiorucci and Gloria Vanderbilt. By her mid-20s, she'd worked out her look - "sexy but not vulgar Helmut Newton". Back then this translated into Tom Ford's Gucci - she was never your bow-wearing, polka-dot-toting kind of girl.
For her wedding, which took place at Blenheim in front of Hugh Grant, Liz Hurley, Elle Macpherson and 400 other intimates (plus American Vogue), she wore slinky Valentino couture - partly, she says, because she hadn't sorted anything out. She'd been so busy with Choo she hadn't had time to think about her own outfit until six weeks before the wedding. The dress cost her £15,000 ($29,200), the same as her annual salary at Jimmy Choo (a recurrent theme of In My Shoes, her compulsively candid, rip-roaringly readable autobiography).
Then again, dating from those picture-perfect days in LA, there was always dissonance between perfectly poised outward Tamara and the turmoil within. The only time the two states resembled one another was when she entered rehab in the 90s, shortly after being "let go" from Vogue.
"It's such a fight to stay clean. It's as much as you can do to put on a pair of jeans."
Hers would have fitted perfectly, though. She's a stickler for details. One of the many reasons she eventually left Jimmy Choo at the end of 2011 was over issues of quality ("A luxury brand shouldn't be using leather that costs less than £50 a square metre," she says). But she'd lost control long before that.
"One of my worst decisions ever was to sell a majority stake in Jimmy Choo. I'll never do that again."
And this is how she comes to be the main stakeholder in her new venture, the eponymously named label that launches any moment and aims to challenge the sillier aspects of the current fashion system by delivering small capsule collections of clothes to stores every month, in the relevant season.
"I don't know any woman who buys her coats in July," says Mellon. "This is buy now, wear now."
It's also quintessential Mellon: super-slick leather pencil skirts, leopard-print boots and sexy silk shirts worn slightly oversized, because "That's modern now, as is wearing skinny drainpipes under slit dresses and fringes. It's classic but with an edge."
I ask her why she thinks the rest of the fashion world can't seem to operate along these delivery principles.
"Maybe because it's easier to build something from ground up than turn around a supertanker."
Now 46, she seems happier than she has for years. After Choo, she was able to spend more time with her daughter, Minty, 11, with whom she seems to share many interests, including a keen nose for business. Nor has Minty been put off fashion. Mellon often finds missing jackets turn up in her daughter's wardrobe.
Tamara has finally found her bonding exercise.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
So how many pairs of shoes do you have? Probably 3000. What can I say?
Any flats at all? Most definitely. I'm all about high-top Converse and J Brand jeans at the weekend.
Your go-to staple? I have at least half a dozen black pencil skirts, including leather ones, and silk blouses. It's hard to find good ones, so I've got them in my own line. I used to wear lots of blazers, but now I'm more into the bomber, which I wear with skirts or rolled up skinny jeans.
How do you store your clothes? Internationally. They're in warehouses in America and the UK. One day a museum will benefit but, in the meantime, I'm keeping it all for my daughter.
Anything you won't wear? When I turned 45 I felt it was time to put away the hot pants. It doesn't look appropriate.
And something you'll always love? White trouser suits, a la Bianca Jagger in her Studio 54 days. There's a tribute one in my collection.
Dedicated follower? You won't find me in something frilly just because it's fashionable. But if it's a trend I love, such as neon, then I'm there.
Favourite designers? Valentino, old and new, especially for evening wear. Stella McCartney.
Must-have beauty aid? Exfoliator. Any one will do. Last week in Manchester I nipped into Sainsbury's and bought one from Simple. Time to break the High-Maintenance Tamara myth. I'm really not.
- The Telegraph
* Read more about Tamara Mellon's incredible life in her autobiography In My Shoes ($37, published by Penguin), in stores now.