It’s 10am in one of the city’s poshest addresses, and already Professor Jimmy Choo, OBE, is a picture of effortless sophistication. His fitted blazer is flawlessly cut and dark shades sit perfectly as he readies himself. There’s a kind of easy-going approachability and a distinguishable humility that immediately stands out.
Perhaps it’s Choo’s humble origins – in addition to his dedication to exquisitely crafted shoes – that has made him such a household name. It was 1986 when an entrepreneurial Choo first set up shop in London, following his graduation from Cordwainers Technical College, now part of the London College of Fashion. A decade later, his ready-to-wear line was launched with the late Tom Yeardye, and loyal celebrity fans like the late Princess Diana, Madonna and Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City propelled his rise to stardom. Several accolades followed, including an Order of the British Empire for his contribution to fashion, presented by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.
Jimmy Choo, the internationally recognized icon and legendary shoe couturier, is more than Jimmy Choo, the sexy, glamorous brand that's wildly famous for its high heels and even higher price tags. Choo is quick to point out that he hasn’t been a part of the brand for the last 15 years. “I sold my share of the business in 2001, five years after inception. It bears my name, but we are not related at all.”
Born into a family of shoemakers in Malaysia, it was his father who taught him his trade at age 11. Having trodden the hard, long road to success, Choo is passionate about giving back, including pointing emerging talent in the right direction. Honorary fellow for footwear education at his alma mater and a spokesperson for the British Council in their promotion of British Education to foreign students, Choo mentors young and aspiring shoe designers. He says he isn’t scared of them copying his ideas or inspiration – he’s just worried they will become lazy and not develop new designs.
“More and more schools and universities have asked me to share my experiences, because I do everything from drawing to crafting. Not many can design, cut patterns and sew from scratch. It’s a lost skill these days, with computers and machines. Now, we focus more on freehand drawing, we’re going back to basics,” says Choo.
His latest breed of budding artisans hail directly from China, and Choo is an advisor to homegrown manufacturer ISCA Limited, whose brand Grand Master Lineage (GML) debuted at Attos Milano, the mainland’s largest authorized duty-free luxury concept store. It stocks over 40 brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Versace, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, and has plans to expand across the mainland.
Choo is excited about his relationship with GML. “Everyone keeps asking me why I’m in China. I’ve chosen to work with GML because they want to make quality shoes, just like they do in Italy. I’m Chinese, so I’m also coming back to my heritage, my motherland. A lot of young Chinese designers have gone overseas to study, and they’ve returned to work here. It is very important to me to give back to society. We’re creating jobs, giving back to the Chinese economy.”
Choo still designs and sews new pieces. His ultimate goal is to be like Giorgio Armani, who continues to work despite his age. But for now, Choo is looking to the future.
"I love designing. I love creating. I love to travel, meet young people and give them advice and confidence. I’m just not done yet," he declares, his soft laugh permeating the morning air.