Billionaire Matthew Mellon, who died Monday on his way to a drug rehabilitation facility in Mexico, was known by some as the dashing social-scene scion to one of America’s most famous banking families. But his peers remember him more for his pioneering, risk-taking ways in business.
Mellon, who had a well-chronicled addiction to opioid-based painkillers like Oxycontin, used gut instincts to turn an inherited fortune into his own fame in both the fashion and finance communities.
The executive founded Harrys of London in 2002 before selling a 40 percent stake to the Atelier Fund for $3.5 million four years later. (In 2011, Boston-based private equity firm Palladin Consumer Retail Partners LLC acquired a majority interest, with Mellon, who had no involvement with the business at the time, still retaining a stake. And it was acquired again in May 2017 by New York-based real estate developer and media entrepreneur Charles S. Cohen.)
The entrepreneur launched the British men’s shoe brand, according to friends, because he was “obsessed with living in tennis shoes” but needed something for dressier occasions. At the time, few dress shoes offered athletic technology.
“He had a great brain — he was a real forward thinker,” said Frederick Anderson, the designer of his own line and former president of Hanley Mellon, the collection Mellon created with second wife Nicole Hanley Mellon. “He was a first-in kind of guy. He was first in on bitcoin. He was first in on shoes with athletic-wear bottoms. Look where the industry is today — he was 15 years earlier. That’s how he always was.”
“He was charismatic, fun and talented,” said Stanley Silver, former owner of Fred Segal Feet, who hosted a number of dinners with Mellon. “I gravitated to him early on because of the name of his collection, Harrys of London. My father and first born were named Harry. But his passion and dedication really drove him to produce some of the most exciting and creative collections in the marketplace. My wife, Patti, and I loved supporting him, as his collection got better each season.”
Mellon was a fashion fixture in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and his notoriety only increased after a storybook wedding to his first wife, Tamara Mellon, the co-founder of women’s luxury label Jimmy Choo. They were married at the historic Blenheim Palace, a monumental English country house, in 2000 in front of hundreds of friends.
Shortly after their wedding, Matthew Mellon tested his hand at designing men’s shoes for the Jimmy Choo label after a he visited one of its factories in Italy. Though that collection lasted for only a few seasons, those that knew Mellon said it was only a matter of time before he would re-emerge in the fashion business.
“Matthew was a real amazing creative force of nature,” said Neil Clifford, CEO of Kurt Geiger, which operates the shoe departments at Harrods, Selfridges and Liberty. “I remember our numerous fabulously funny meetings, whilst brainstorming the creation of Harrys over dinner. You underestimated him at your peril, as he normally was the fastest, cleverest, funniest, most imaginative human in the room.”
Mellon, who once served as chair of the finance committee of the Republican Party in New York, sensed another opportunity early on: by investing early in cryptocurrency Ripple. According to a statement from Mellon’s family, he turned a $2 million investment into $1 billion.
Mellon, who was 53, is survived by three children: Araminta, Force and Olympia.