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Jimmy Choo -- on a shoestring

The luxury firm is rolling out a highly anticipated cheap chic line for H&M: flats, heels, even dresses.

November 08, 2009|BOOTH MOORE | FASHION CRITIC

Jimmy Choo took the town by storm last week, hosting not one but two parties. Not Jimmy Choo the man (the shoemaker sold his name in 2001), but Jimmy Choo the British footwear brand and its glamorous president and founder, Tamara Mellon.

No stranger to Los Angeles, Mellon lived in Beverly Hills from ages 8 to 14, attending Marymount High School (Camp Beverly Hills was a favorite hangout), before settling in London. She was also one of the first to recognize the power of the red carpet, setting up the brand's first Academy Awards showroom for celebrities and stylists in 1999. She, like the celebrities she dresses, has been tabloid bait since marrying the heir to the Mellon fortune in 2001. (The two have since divorced.) She dated actor Christian Slater for two years and worked with movie-turned-fashion mogul Harvey Weinstein on reviving the Halston brand.

So it's no surprise that she came back to L.A. -- this time with her own red carpet -- to launch her hotly anticipated line for H&M, which hits stores on Saturday.

Nothing in the H&M line is more than $300, which meant the look at Monday's Hollywood Hills soiree was cheap chic. Nicky Hilton chose the beaded little black dress ($199) accessorized with a rhinestone star-emblazoned clutch ($99), while sister Paris wore a cat suit ($69.95) with a pink plastic minaudiere ($59.95), and Hayden Panettiere slid into a pair of black leather leggings ($99) and a zip-up, sequin-covered cardigan ($129).

The Jimmy Choo for H&M shoes are really good -- $129 electric blue metallic leather cage heels; $129 gladiator-style studded leather platforms; $199 over-the-knee black leather boots -- so good, in fact, that they make you wonder why the real line has to be so expensive. There's the "Made in China" versus "Made in Italy" thing. But that's a difference you can't see.

What about the fit, you ask? Heels are subjective, but flats not so much. So, earlier this week, I test-drove a pair of Jimmy Choo "Witty" flats ($365) from my closet, followed by the Jimmy Choo for H&M version ($69.95) with the same zebra stripes, plus silver studding. The last, the cut and the tread details on the rubber soles all felt identical. They were both immensely comfortable.

By now, most apparel designers have dipped their toes into the world of cheap chic -- Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf at H&M alone, but not the great luxury shoe troika of Manolo, Louboutin and Choo. The move is a smart one, keeping Jimmy Choo relevant in a time when $800 shoes seem even more like folly.

The Jimmy Choo for H&M collection is incredibly faithful to the original, right down to the muse -- Debbie Harry, for the fall Jimmy Choo and H&M lines. The ad campaigns are similar too, with both shot by Terry Richardson.

Similarities in the two chic punk collections don't bother Mellon. "I don't think it takes away from our luxury business at all, she said over lunch recently in Beverly Hills. "It's very exciting to reach a broader audience."

Here's what a luxury retailer thinks: "There is a woman, and I do think it's our customer, who wants the authenticity of the true brand, and appreciates the quality and workmanship that go into a luxury product," said Colleen Sherin, fashion market director of Saks Fifth Avenue. "But if you are doing a main line and a diffusion line or designing under another brand, it's important to keep the two distinctly different."

One difference is that the Jimmy Choo for H&M collection also includes clothing and jewelry (a chain-link and rhinestone necklace makes a big statement for $49). Designing clothes was a first for Mellon, who doesn't sketch, but instead works off pieces culled from vintage stores (Resurrection and Shareen are favorites in L.A.). She enjoyed it so much, she'd consider a future line -- under her own name, she said, not Jimmy Choo's.

Judging from the success of past H&M designer collections, this one won't last long, perhaps only a matter of hours. (The collection is being sold only in select H&M stores, the Beverly Center and Sunset Boulevard locations in L.A.) But Mellon, who recently moved to New York City, has other tricks up her sleeve too.

While in town, she also feted the brand's new charity endeavor, Project PEP. Twenty-five percent of net sales of the capsule collection of shoes and bags in a punk rock 'n' roll print (from $95 for flip-flops to $995 for a tote) will go toward providing victims of sexual abuse in South Africa with HIV preventive PEP medication (post-exposure prophylaxis) and counseling.

Jimmy Choo recently launched a range of sunglasses, and a fragrance is on the horizon too. Mellon admitted that the economic environment has affected the brand, but said recent sales of this year's Cruise collection had been stronger than expected.

"We're finding really fashion-forward pieces are selling out," she said. "People may not be buying a new black dress, but they are updating their closet with cute shoes and a new bag."

Which come Saturday, they can do for a whole lot less.

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booth.moore@latimes.com

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