His name is synonymous with one of the most renowned designer shoe brands in the world so it should come as no surprise that for Jimmy Choo, creating footwear runs in the blood. As the son of a shoe maker he learned the craft from his father in Malaysia, before moving to England in the 1980s to undertake formal study at the London College of Fashion. He opened his first shop in Hackney in 1986 and eventually co-founded the Jimmy Choo shoe label with British Vogue’s Tamara Mellon who had worked with Choo on the magazine.
After a successful career at the label that included being appointed official shoemaker to Princess Diana and opening stores in New York, Milan and Paris he stepped down from the brand in 2001. Today he is an Ambassador for Footwear Education at the London College of Fashion, is the recipient of an OBE for services to the British fashion industry and is preparing to launch a capsule shoe collection under his Chinese name Zhou Yang Jie. I caught up with Choo during his inaugural visit to Sydney with American Express to chat about the secret to his success, what he does for fun and if he ever finds himself visiting a Jimmy Choo store…
Where did your love of shoes come from?
I was born in Malaysia and my father is a shoe designer. So, when I was young I saw my father making shoes. After I finished school, I would finish my homework, then help my dad learning the skill.
So many celebrities have worn your shoes over the years. Is there a person who stands out in your mind?
I have to say thanks to the late Princess Diana. Because I had been working with her for seven years, and now this year is the 20th-year anniversary of her passing and all over the world people still remember her and what she did for the legacy. She did a lot of charity events. Not many people do that.
What was it like to create shoes for the late Princess Diana?
She would call me to Kensington Palace to show me all the garments and everything that she was going to wear as she traveled all over the world. So we would look at all the garments and we would match the shoes for her. She was a very nice, very kind person.
What do you believe is the secret to your success?
When people say to me, “You are [a] successful person”, to me it’s not yet. I’m not successful yet. Because growing up my father always said, “One day you still alive, you don’t know what happened yourself”. People can seem [successful] and suddenly disappear, you know… we must, continue to learn all the time. So I’m not [successful] because I’m still learning.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I think, patience is very important. If you have no patience, you’ve lost everything. Because you need to talk to people. Communication is very important.
And what advice do you give to up-and-coming designers?
They still have to have patience. Every time [you] see something new, you mustn’t lose [your] temper and keep your mind open. Also always [ask yourself] what’s the next fashion? If you don’t sell, you must find out why it isn’t selling.
Why are you so passionate about the art of making shoes?
I love designing shoes, I love shoes. Sometimes when I go to factories, or one of my students comes [to me] with some idea [for] shoes, I would start to tear. True, true. You know, some of them are very beautiful and they take a lot of time, the detail and the design.
Although you are not involved in the company anymore. You must feel very proud that the Jimmy Choo brand you created is doing so well all these years later.
Yes I feel very proud. They’re all doing very well. I congratulate them, I wish them doing better and better.
Do you ever go into the stores?
No, I don’t do that. I don’t go in the shop. I never went into the shop. Because I think soul is soul, you wish them the best; you do what you want to do.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
For the people, who surround me and take care of me [day to day], I like [to] say thanks to them, I like to organise a holiday for them. I think it’s very important, you know, they are working with me day and night, traveling with me, they haven’t got time for their children and family. So I like to organise so they can go on holiday together. Or I like to invite them to my house. We cook and I love music so I listen to music… Elvis is my favourite.
If you had never gone down this career path of making shoes, what would you be doing?
I would like to be a healer and heal people. You know in London, they have a healing school. You can learn how to heal people with your hands. If you feel pain. They lay a hand on you and you heal them with your energy.
What has been your biggest career highlight?
I would say I’m very grateful to my country. A nine-year-old student, they can see my history in the textbook. Money cannot buy [that]. [Influential] people pass away, and then they talk about them. But I’m still alive. Thanks to my country and the education minister, the leader allowed my history in a textbook for all the young children to learn as part of their education.