I was just standing there, and he walked up to me,” fashion entrepreneur Tamara Mellon recalls of her first encounter with Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz, in 2011. “We were at a business conference in Aspen, and he said, ‘Are you Tamara Mellon?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘I would like to take you for a private drink.’ ” Ovitz’s bold strategy worked. “I thought, Wow, that’s direct! But he was the only guy there without a potbelly and old-man pants on—he was wearing nice jeans, looked pretty fit, and had nice teeth. So we went out.”
Four years, many more private drinks, and one enormous diamond ring later, Mellon and Ovitz are a larger-than-life super couple, juggling their respective businesses between Mellon’s home base in New York and Los Angeles, where Ovitz’s giant, ultra-sleek mansion in Beverly Hills doubles as a quasi-exhibition space for his world-renowned art collection. As Mellon learned quickly after their introduction, Ovitz’s razor-sharp eye extends far beyond his taste in jeans. One of Hollywood’s best-known talent agents, he has personally represented Barbra Streisand and David Letterman, and he cofounded Creative Artists Agency in 1975. Ovitz built a career on his uncanny ability to spot opportunities for his clients, and he has an equally impressive knack for hunting down great art. Over the past three decades, he has amassed hundreds of landmark modern and contemporary pieces, including major works by Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Adolph Gottlieb.
Mellon first visited Ovitz’s art-filled compound in the fall of 2011, a few months after they met. “I was like, ‘My God, you did all this? How did you find the time?’” she says. “It shows that he has patience and perseverance like you wouldn’t believe.” Befitting its contents, the 35,000-square-foot structure is larger than many well-respected museums. Composed of polished, sculptural plates of stainless steel and tucked among sweeping lawns like a gleaming silver lake, it was completed in 2009 after 10 years of meticulous planning.
“At first I’d get lost in there, especially at night when the lights were off,” says Mellon. “If I wanted to get a glass of water, I’d end up in one of the galleries instead of the kitchen.” Otherwise she felt right at home, and with good reason: Born in London and raised between England and California (with a crisp British accent to show for it), Mellon spent part of her childhood in a house just down the street. “I was shocked when I found out Michael’s address,” she says. “I’ve come full circle apparently!”
Mellon resides primarily in Manhattan with her 13-year-old daughter, Araminta (or “Minty”), and their two dogs; the headquarters of her latest venture, the Tamara Mellon accessories and ready-to-wear label, are located on Madison Avenue. She started the company in 2013 after departing from Jimmy Choo, the brand she helped catapult to synonymity with sexy, decadent, sky-high heels in the late 1990s.
As a woman who has built not just one but two companies around a slick, highly defined aesthetic, Mellon can hardly believe she’s found a partner with similarly exacting tastes. “We’re very lucky that we like the same things,” she marvels. “But it’s not like I’m trying to push a bunch of floral prints on him, you know? Although I did rearrange the furniture in the bar area,” she confesses. “I felt like the flow wasn’t comfortable for people to sit. It had this exquisite modular sofa, and I moved it around so that the feng shui was right. Michael likes it.”
While Ovitz is quite private about his collection, he loves to share it with visitors, frequently hosting exhibitions by younger artists and employing a full-time curator who regularly rotates pieces out of storage and onto his gallery-white walls. Meanwhile, Mellon’s recent immersion in art has begun to reveal itself in her work. Her fall shoe designs feature earthy patterns inspired by fin de siècle African sculptures that flank a large African-inspired Picasso painting in the sitting room. Mellon’s creations, though, won’t ever be worn there: “It’s a shoes-off house,” she says, laughing. “It’s like getting on a boat—there’s a basket next to the door, filled with rows and rows of shoes.”
Last fall, Ovitz took Mellon and Minty out to dinner and placed two Cartier jewelry boxes on the table. Minty’s contained a gold Love bracelet, and Mellon’s a jewel the size of a Jolly Rancher. “It was so thoughtful of him to include Minty, to make it about the family,” says Mellon, though she is quick to clarify the ring’s significance. “It’s a promise ring,” she explains, her hand sparkling. “He gave it to me to say, ‘I’m committed to you, we’re life partners, and I love you.’” And, of course, he needed no help with picking it out.