The Big Changes at Choo

They were one of the industry’s most powerful pairs.

After building Jimmy Choo into a global luxury powerhouse — and engineering one of this year’s biggest footwear deals — Tamara Mellon, the brand’s founder and chief creative officer, and Joshua Schulman, its CEO, are both leaving the label. The moves come six months after Jimmy Choo was acquired by Labelux Group for a reported $850 million.

Schulman, who has led Jimmy Choo since 2007, told Footwear News today that now was the right time to leave and his decision came after “conversations over time with Labelux management and shareholders.”

“Jimmy Choo is in a great place and Labelux is a great fit for the brand. It will continue to thrive,” Schulman said. “I am enormously proud of what we accomplished. From a financial point of view, we grew the business significantly. And we transitioned Jimmy Choo from a niche brand focused on the U.S. and Europe to a [global] lifestyle player.”

The executive stressed that his resignation was unrelated to Mellon’s and he will remain on board into next year during a transition period, while the founder will exit at the end of the month. The departures were announced together, he said, to ensure a smooth transition at Labelux.

As they digested the news, a number of top retailers praised Schulman and Mellon’s tenure at the 15-year-old brand.

“Josh and Tamara have been the most amazing partners,” said Ron Frasch, president and chief merchandising officer at Saks Fifth Avenue, adding that the label’s business at the department store has more than doubled over the past couple of years.

Frasch lauded Schulman’s brand-building initiatives and smart leadership in particular. “He really put the business at a different level. I am very saddened to know that he won’t be our partner at Jimmy Choo going forward,” Frasch said.

Kurt Geiger CEO Neil Clifford said Mellon and Schulman’s individual strengths added up to a very strong partnership. “[They] were the perfect cocktail of art and science,” said Clifford. “They will be missed.”

Mellon, who was in Brazil earlier this week as part of her U.K. trade deputy duties, was not available for comment. But her resignation is the more surprising of the two. Since co-founding the label 15 years ago, she has served as Jimmy Choo’s ambassador, making countless appearances around the world, starring in several of the brand’s ad campaigns and promoting Jimmy Choo tirelessly in the press. She hosted several Jimmy Choo events this fall, including a party in New York last month to fete the brand’s new Icons collection.

Mellon told Footwear News in July she was “very committed” to the label and its expansion.

“None of the bidders would buy the company without me,” she said at the time, adding that she was just beginning to craft a long-term growth plan with Labelux. “We’re only a teenager. It takes about 30 years for a luxury brand to really hit maturity.”  

A report in “The Telegraph,” which first reported the moves on Saturday, speculated that Labelux was unhappy with the state of Jimmy Choo after the acquisition.

But Schulman said his impression was that Labelux had been pleased with the business all along and planned to invest further going forward. He pointed to Jimmy Choo’s impressive growth over the past few years. While the exec declined to comment on specific financials, sources close to the company said the label had sales of about 65 million pounds (or $104.5 million, at current exchange) when Schulman arrived and will finish this year at about 220 million pounds ($353.8 million).

In a statement released Sunday, Labelux, which also owns Bally, said Jimmy Choo reported 150 million pounds in 2010 net sales and is experiencing double-digit growth across all categories and markets this year.

In an interview Sunday, Labelux CEO Reinhard Mieck said, “It’s always a surprise when people resign, but you digest the news and then see how you can build a future. But there are no negative feelings. We’re all very positive and there won’t be a change in strategic direction at Jimmy Choo.”

Mieck said the current creative directors, Sandra Choi and Simon Holloway, will continue in their roles. He added the company had no plans to replace Mellon as chief creative officer.

“The creative side of the company is extremely strong, and the design direction will continue,” said Mieck.

The firm plans to name a new CEO over the next couple of weeks. “From a management point of view, there won’t be any significant disruptions,” said Mieck. “We acquired the company because of its potential and we believe it has a very exciting future.”

Mieck confirmed that Schulman and Mellon will no longer hold any shares in the company. 

But their future is still undetermined.

For now, Schulman, 40, said he is focusing on the transition at Jimmy Choo, but that he expects a number of exciting opportunities to emerge.

And fashion insiders are already speculating about Mellon’s next move. Interestingly, she told FN this summer she wouldn’t rule out starting another brand. “I’m not sure why that idea seems to be cropping up now,” she said at the time. “But you never know what the future holds.”

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