Jimmy Choo has long established itself as one of the stiletto brands of choice, so it’s no wonder that the brain behind the brand possesses the dedication and style that one would expect. Born in the United Kingdom and educated in Hong Kong, creative director and ultimate power woman Sandra Choi has designed some of the most iconic styles we know.
Aged 18, Choi started working for her uncle, Jimmy Choo, and enrolled in the foundation design course at Central St Martins, which she later abandoned in order to devote herself full-time to design and the management of the atelier, which was catering to the global jet set, including Princess Diana. The fate of the brand was officially and fantastically sealed when Sex and The City hit our screens in the millennium. There were two or three storylines that specifically related to Jimmy Choo, together with those that generally highlighted the emotional attachment women have with their vertiginous friends. Iconic moments such as Carrie Bradshaw exclaiming, ‘Wait, I lost my Choo!’ could never have happened had it not been for her feathered, purple sling back.
Mr Choo departed the company in 2001, and later Mellon in 2011, leaving Choi to continue steering the internationally recognised label forward. Since taking over as creative director in 2013, Sandra has been responsible for creating some of the most coveted shoes ever, and here we take the opportunity to find out more about the coveted Off-White™ collection, being an empowered woman, and how she pays tribute to Jimmy Choo’s iconic red-carpet legacy.
Who is the Jimmy Choo woman?
The Jimmy Choo woman is cosmopolitan, daring, instinctively seductive, and playful.
Can you share your brand DNA?
An empowered sense of glamour with a playfully daring spirit.
Has being a shoe designer always been a personal passion of yours?
Actually, it wasn’t a shoe designer, as my first passion was to be a fashion designer but in college my tutor told me he thought I had a talent for product design. As fate would have it I now have the best of both world’s!
Why do you think women are so obsessed with shoes?
Shoes, especially heels for women, have always had the power to transform both emotionally and physically. Not only do they change your posture and height, but they have the ability to change how your feel whether that is confidence or glamour, dressed up or down, they enhance your personality and the image you want to project. They also have the ability to provide an instant update to your style.
How many shoes do you own?
Too many to count! I would say in excess of 600 pairs.
If you could only own one pair of shoes, which style would they be?
A pair of pointy toe pumps.
What is the highest heel you can walk in?
It’s not so much about the height of shoes, it is more about knowing your limits. There is a perfect heel height or everyone in our collections, once you have found it you will always be confident in your shoes.
What elements make a flattering shoe?
In terms of aesthetics, I always think even the most classic shoe should have a little unexpected touch or design detail that differentiates it and makes it flattering.
Tell us how you create something that is timeless yet fashion forward?
It is important that the brand keeps up with lifestyle and cultural trends. Being aware of these is incredibly important in order to ensure the brand stays relevant. For example, personalisation is such a key thing for people, so our Made-to-Order collection is always being refreshed to include new fabrics, new styles, and new ways for people to add their own stamp onto our shoes.
How do you like a woman to feel when wearing a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes?
Jimmy Choo is a celebratory brand, it makes you feel good to wear something that is beautiful, exquisitely made and fun!
How do you go about designing to ensure you combine both style and comfort?
Designing a shoe is an architectural feat and even being a millimetre off can ruin the pitch and design of a shoe. I am always finding new ways to give women beautiful and comfortable shoes. For example, we have reworked our classic pump to create the Romy. We have given it a rounder toe and wider heel base for added comfort, while still retaining the sleek, classic aesthetic.
Of all the accessories that you’ve designed, which has given you the most satisfaction?
The purple feather Jimmy Choo shoes that Carrie wears in Sex in the City. The episode when Carrie loses her ‘Choo’ while trying to catch the Staten Island ferry really put us on the fashion map. It was the turning point in popular culture when fashion became part of the mainstream in a way it had never been before. There is nothing that can quite compare.
How has your work evolved over the years?
I love designing accessories that make people smile. Playfulness has always been a part of the brand and something I am keen to highlight. I also think the digital age has increased the importance of playful designs, people want things that pop and look good on camera.
Is there another shoe designer whose designs or career path you admire?
The original Roger Vivier.
Tell us about your Off-White™ collaboration, what made this the right pairing for Jimmy Choo?
I want to surprise people. Make them ask ‘What kind of effusion, ultimate product are we going to come up with’. Historically, Jimmy Choo has had very strong brand values, the glamour, the confidence. Off-White™ is unpredictable. This collaboration was unpredictable and exciting.
Do you enjoy the process of collaborating?
We didn’t have boundaries, that was the fun part of this collaboration. The design process involved bouncing ideas off each other on our JCOW chat group.
The collection is based around Princess Diana, Is she one of your icons?
I think she’s relatable. Diana was a royal grounded in reality. She was real, not a fairy-tale
You have of course dressed many other stars, what was your biggest red-carpet moment?
I have so many. Every time someone choses to wear us on the red carpet it feels like an achievement. However, one that stands out for me is when Michelle Obama wore us to the 2009 inaugural ball following the induction of Barack Obama as 44th president of the United States. The fact that Michelle had chosen to wear Jimmy Choo on one of the most significant nights of the year was a real pinch me moment.
To you, what makes a woman empowering?
Intelligence and confidence is incredibly empowering. Jimmy Choo has been built with a legacy of confident women who use fashion to convey a message of power and confidence, and to express who they are.
Tell us about how you make sure you allow yourself time for your personal life?
Ever since I have had a family I have always ensured that my time is dedicated to them on the weekend, because as a Creative Director the week days are consumed by work. I’m trying to make sure 2018 is about striking a better work-life balance, every working mother’s goal!
What do you enjoy doing most in your own time?
We recently bought a house in the countryside near Bath. My family and I try to escape there as much as possible. It really clears your head to switch off from the buzz of working in London, and you get time to think and allow the great outdoors to inspire you. It is like a mini mind detox escaping the city. If we are in London we like to go to Church Street, NW3, to browse at Alfie’s Antiques Market or go to a gallery, with favourites including Saatchi, Serpentine, V&A or The National Portrait.
Can you share with us your greatest achievement?
The most ‘pinch-me-moment’ of my entire career was attending a dinner at the White House and meeting Michelle Obama. I was staggered by just how informed Michelle was. She knew so much about each person at the dinner, and there were many people there. The other is when I found out we had sold 1 million pairs of shoes. It validated everything I had worked towards and gave me the drive to keep going.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
My husband told me to ‘know what I want’.
By Eliza Scarborough