Style Celebrity

Saturday 19 January 2019

Obituary: Matthew Mellon

Wayward member of a banking family who married the founder of Jimmy Choo

IF THE SHOE FITS: Tamara and Matthew Mellon
IF THE SHOE FITS: Tamara and Matthew Mellon

Matthew Mellon, who died last Monday aged 54, while at a drug rehabilitation centre in Cancun, Mexico, was a scion of the American banking family, a serial entrepreneur of ideas for those with more money than time, and a ubiquitous presence in the upper echelons of Manhattan society.

He was perhaps best known for his marriage to the co-founder of the Jimmy Choo shoe brand, Tamara Mellon, and for the shenanigans that accompanied their divorce.

This led to his trial at Southwark Crown Court in 2007 for hiring investigators to hack into the emails of his former wife - only for her unflattering characterisations of his limited powers of concentration to lead to his acquittal.

The couple had met in 1998 at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London.

"Matthew was utterly beautiful and utterly goofy," recalled Tamara in her memoir In My Shoes (2013). "He was also damaged goods."

After six months together, he proposed to her in a helicopter circling the Mellon bank building in Pittsburgh. They married in splendour in 2000 at Blenheim Palace, where the guests included Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley.

Mellon, who took care over his matinee idol appearance, later told a friend that one of the pleasures of a wedding was that it was the only time that a man could wear make-up.

His wife had set up her business in 1996 with help from her father, a partner of Vidal Sassoon, and it enjoyed great success.

"When your wife makes $100m during the course of your marriage, it's quite a shocker," Mellon confided. "I feel like my balls are in a jar, like a Damien Hirst artwork on the mantelpiece."

He began his own shoe business, Harry's, which aimed to make brogues as comfortable as trainers. He also turned once more to drugs - he was addicted for many years to OxyContin as well as cocaine - and at one point was found hiding under a bed in a crack-house in Notting Hill. The Mellons separated in 2004, two years after the birth of their daughter Araminta.

Matthew then found comfort with the lobster-hatted stylist Isabella Blow.

Tamara Mellon discovered during the divorce proceedings that she had been sent Trojan viruses by Active Investigation Services (AIS), a company run by two former policemen, which had been retained by Mellon to discover the state of her finances.

Mellon was charged with criminal conspiracy, the issue being whether he had knowingly authorised AIS to undertake an illegal act. Called as a witness to his state of mind, Tamara testified that, though he was bright and good fun, being married to him was like having another child. He could not follow the plot of a comic let alone read a contract.

The courtroom erupted. The jury acquitted Mellon, although convicted two employees of the agency. He and his former wife subsequently remained close.

Matthew Taylor Mellon was born in New York on January 26, 1964. He was a great-great-great-grandson of Judge Thomas Mellon, who founded the family's fortunes in the late 19th Century. By shrewd dealing in Pittsburgh, including loans to Andrew Carnegie's steel business, he made the Mellon bank the largest in the US outside Wall Street.

The family wealth came to encompass oil as well as finance and by this century was reckoned at some $12bn.

Matthew Mellon's father Karl, a musician and fisherman, belonged to one of the less prominent branches of the family, but his wife Anne was descended from another American banking dynasty, the Drexels. When Matthew was five, his father left home, and he was brought up largely by his stepfather, Reeve Bright, a lawyer.

Despite family disapproval, Mellon harboured ambitions of becoming a rock musician - he had won break-dancing competitions - or a model, having been approached by the Ford agency. As he told it, his mother had pretended that his side of the family was not wealthy and, having had summer jobs which included digging ditches, it came as a shock when at 21 he inherited $25m. This was just the first of 14 trusts that had been set up for him.

Unprepared for such riches, and overwhelmed by them, he decamped to Los Angeles, where he bought a black Ferrari, partied with Heidi Fleiss - the "Hollywood Madam" - and fortified his drugs habit.

Shining with all the brilliance of a sputtering firework, Mellon had many loyal friends, and constantly devised new projects, such as in private aviation. In 2010 he married another fashion designer, Nicole Hanley, and they founded a clothing line together, Hanley Mellon.

The following year, Mellon was appointed chairman of the finance committee of the Republican Party in New York. His demons returned, however, and although the couple had a young son and daughter, they divorced in 2015.

Mellon subsequently began another stint in rehabilitation, admitting on social media that he was "perfectly imperfect".

"If you fall," he wrote, "you have the right to get up. If you don't get up, don't hurt those who love you the most". This year Forbes magazine hailed him as having latterly made $1bn from investments in the cryptocurrency XRP (Ripple), although its value has since declined substantially.

Mellon's children survive him.


Sunday Independent

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