First Round: Sour Mellons

First Round can’t help but feel sorry for Tamara Mellon. If life wasn’t difficult enough with her ageless beauty, designer wardrobe, A-list celebrity parties and millions in the bank, the erstwhile founder of Jimmy Choo clearly has some issues that she needs to work through when it comes to private equity.

It’s now a couple of years since she parted ways with the high-end shoe-maker, after working for a decade under three different private equity owners (Phoenix, then Lion, then TowerBrook). But the passage of time – not to mention the company’s remarkable commercial success and her own accumulation of enormous personal wealth during said decade – has clearly not dimmed her hostility and resentment towards the industry, judging by a recent interview she gave to the UK’s Sunday Telegraph.

“They’re the sociopaths of investment banking,” she told the newspaper. “They come in and raid – raid your bank account and take your accomplishments. It’s all about fattening the pig for the slaughter, with no care about the people or the product.” Mellon insists there’s no place for private equity in high fashion deals, because – as the Telegraph puts it – “it regards creative leaders as irritants rather than as assets”.

They come in and raid – raid your bank account and take your accomplishments. It’s all about fattening the pig for the slaughter, with no care about the people or the product.

Tamara Mellon, founder, Jimmy Choo

In her new book, ‘In My Shoes’, she apparently likens buyout investors to “vultures”, drugs, abusive boyfriends and “feed-lot farmers”, according to the Telegraph. “I’ve been through three private equity deals, and it was the same thing, every time. They came in, their only focus was their exit strategy; [and] on exit, you are thrown to the wolves.”

Some of Mellon’s former partners have a rather different take on who was adding value to whom. For instance, Lion boss Lyndon Lea (who for some reason Mellon singles out personally) told the paper she was “barely engaged with the business during the period of our ownership … Tamara was the public face but did not play an active operating role and was rarely at the company’s offices.”

Either way, First Round would argue that it’s probably a bit of a stretch to describe walking away with tens of millions of pounds (fashion house Labelux brought Jimmy Choo for almost £500 million in 2011, and at the time Mellon reportedly had a 17 percent stake) as ‘being thrown to the wolves’. But that’s probably because it doesn’t understand high fashion.