Book Review: The Towering World of Jimmy Choo

Lauren Goldstein Crowe and Sagra Maceira De Rosen. The Towering World of Jimmy Choo: A Glamorous Story of Power, Profits, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Shoe. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. 215 pages.

This is probably not the best book to read after American Rust. The transition from the gritty, downbeat novel to this superficial tale of an ultra-luxury brand was jarring, to say the least. Still, since the casino business has more than one parallel with high-end retail, I figured that I’d find something of value in The Towering World of Jimmy Choo. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

The Towering World of Jimmy Choo
isn’t about Jimmy Choo, the man–he disappears around page 80–but the company Jimmy Choo, which was founded by London heiress and party girl Tamara Yeardye. Yeardye doesn’t come across as a very sympathetic character. With pronouncements like “If you live in LA and you haven’t been to rehab, you’re just not cool,” she sounds every bit the spoiled young socialite.

Choo, on the other hand, is a Chinese immigrant to the UK, via Malaysia, who followed his father into the profession of shoe-making but, after years of learning and work, became a sought-after couture shoemaker. In 1996, Yeardye convinced Choo to go into the mass-production shoe business; they formed a company called Jimmy Choo, Ltd., which produced a ready-to-wear collection and opened a London boutique.

The authors chiefly follow JC Ltd’s progress from start-up to success to acquisition, with no real explanation of what made Jimmy Choo’s shoes different from anyone else’s. There aren’t any descriptions of the shoes, which become tangential to the main story, the managerial and financial machinations at Jimmy Choo, Ltd.

It’s a shame, because there’s definitely a great story in there. It’s just not the story we get in the book, which plods from boardroom to red carpet, alternately bogged down in the financial reports and celebrity-obsessed. At times, the book has the feel of a press release, with celebrity name-drops and gushy adjectives substituting for real story-telling.

I did find something useful in the book for those who follow casinos: a concise description of private equity firms that, in retrospect, makes it clear that more questions should have been asked in the Great Going Private tent sale of 2007:

Undoubtedly the easiest way to generate great returns on investment for private equity is through financial engineering: using large quantities of debt (rather than equity) to finance the purchase of a company, and then paying back those loans with the profits generated by the companies themselves. This clearly adds risk to the now more heavily leveraged companies, as the margin of maneuver (and error) with highly indebted balance sheets is much smaller. (p. 97, emphasis mine)

I wish the rest of the book were that informative, or interesting.

The Towering World of Jimmy Choo feels superficial: it’s obviously cobbled together from interviews with some of the major players, with no real depth to it. More research might have added some more nuance and atmosphere, but the book really feels hastily-written and just doesn’t do a good job of creating empathy or even intrigue.

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