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Tamara Mellon Changes Her Look Again

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With the Mellon brand, Ms. Mellon aimed to shake up the industry by delivering shoes and, for the first time, clothes closer to the time one may conceivably want to wear them: winter clothes in the winter, spring clothes in spring. It was, in other words, an early version of the “buy-now, wear-now” model. When she used that phrase in 2013, “People looked at me like I had an alien growing out of the back of my head,” she said, and the company foundered. She filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015.

In starting over, Ms. Mellon has kept her boho-scandalous aesthetic (“I can’t take myself out of it”) but reset her methodology. This time around, she is bypassing stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, which once stocked her wares, selling directly to consumers via her website. Hers is a model that cuts out the middlemen and, in so doing, lowers prices. (A suede bootee from Ms. Mellon’s line costs $525; a similar one from Jimmy Choo was $875.)

“The next generation of luxury brands will not be built the way that I built Jimmy Choo,” Ms. Mellon said firmly, looking out through pastel-tinted sunglasses on her terrace with its views over Los Angeles. “The next generation of luxury brands will be built in a very different way, and in the business model I’m doing now.”

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Ms. Mellon at her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 2013, the same year the original Tamara Mellon company was created.

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Danny Ghitis for The New York Times

Los Angeles has been magnetizing designers with a stronger pull lately. Tommy Hilfiger, Rebecca Minkoff and Rachel Comey will each move their usual New York Fashion Week shows here next month. Tom Ford will introduce his next collection here, just as he did in 2015. And Maria Grazia Chiuri, the new artistic director of Dior, will present her cruise collection here in May. But Ms. Mellon envisions her operation less as a fashion brand than as a tech company, albeit one in stiletto heels, just like so many others sprouting up along Los Angeles’s growing Silicon Beach.

“Basically, every industry will be eaten by technology,” Ms. Mellon said. “Right now, it’s the fashion industry’s turn. We’ve seen it in movies; Uber has eaten transport. But I always say to people, the best analogy is the music business. We all still love music and we want to listen to music, but we don’t go to Tower Records and buy a CD. We download it. The same thing’s going to happen to fashion.”

In her quest to be fashion’s premier direct-to-consumer luxury brand, she has been buoyed by investment from the venture capital firm NEA, which has stakes in such digital-forward properties as Goop and Moda Operandi, and by her connection with Mr. Ovitz, who is now a private investor and consults with companies in Silicon Valley.

“She’s gotten a lot of great advice from all the people I deal with up north,” Mr. Ovitz said in an interview. “She goes up with me often.”

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Velvet bootees from Ms. Mellon’s new shoe line. Called Caress, they are $495.

Credit
Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

Ms. Mellon’s new label will effectively test whether luxury consumers, raised on high-end department stores, will warm to an online-only model where success stories tend to center more often on items like T-shirts (Everlane) and mattresses (Casper) than on $975 stretch-leather thigh-highs. Not everyone is convinced.

“In the designer world, you’re selling more than a product,” said Ron Frasch, a partner in Castanea, a private equity firm and the former president and chief merchandising officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, who worked with Ms. Mellon when she was at Jimmy Choo. “You’re not really selling anything that anyone truly needs; you’re selling wants and dreams and stories about the product. I think it becomes more difficult as a direct-to-consumer play, particularly if it’s an online direct-to-consumer play. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it certainly is more difficult.”

The buy-now, wear-now model that Ms. Mellon has been championing since her last go-round (there will be new styles added to TamaraMellon.com monthly, rather than seasonally) has “a long way to go,” he added. Ms. Mellon acknowledges the concept is still in its infancy, but she noted that some powerful industry peers were cautiously beginning to experiment with the same strategies. (Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry and Tom Ford have all shifted the timing of their shows and production to send products from the runways immediately into stores.)

The stumbles of the first Tamara Mellon brand have not dissuaded her of the wisdom of her approach. Along with bad timing, Ms. Mellon blamed the interference of her former colleagues at Jimmy Choo for its ultimate failure, saying the company “boycotted her” from using her former factories, even after a noncompete clause had expired. She is now suing Jimmy Choo; the companies have a February court date in New York. (“This suit is groundless and will be vigorously contested,” said a spokesman for Jimmy Choo.)

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The actress Constance Zimmer attending Ms. Mellon’s celebration of her second namesake collection in October in Los Angeles. “Hers is one of the only shoe lines I wear not on the red carpet,” Ms. Zimmer said.

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Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Tamara Mellon

In Ms. Mellon’s favor are her long track record making (and marketing) hits. Jimmy Choo was an early proponent of celebrity placements, and Ms. Mellon continues to charm red carpet stylists and the celebrities they need to shoe. An article on Observer.com clocked Ms. Mellon’s breakout style, the Frontline sandal, which featured clear plastic straps, on celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Cindy Crawford, Gigi Hadid and Kylie Jenner.

“Hers is one of the only shoe lines I wear not on the red carpet, as well,” said Constance Zimmer, the Emmy-nominated actress, who was a guest at Ms. Mellon’s starry launch party in October. “I wear hers out. I rarely wear heels, but when I wear heels, I wear hers.”

Ms. Mellon has, in the words of a friend, the jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer, “an intuitive sense of what a woman wants to wear.”

And Mr. Ovitz said: “It’s pretty extraordinary to me. It’s an area I know nothing about. I always marvel at her closet, which has over 3,000 pairs of shoes in it that she’s designed, and think how extraordinary it is that she could design that many different objects when they all have soles and heels. It’s kind of frightening.”

For his sake, Ms. Mellon has also adopted a new custom. Mr. Ovitz won’t allow shoes to be worn in the house.

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