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How does an iconic brand like Jimmy Choo, with a rich history of crafting a wealth of signature styles, choose a select few designs to attain iconic status? “They have to be well loved,” laughs creative director Sandra Choi. “Something can’t just be an icon, it has to become one.”

Established in 2023, the brand’s esteemed The Icons collection features pieces that have garnered the prestigious accolade of being iconic: the classic Love pump with a pointed toe, the Azia strappy sandal, the crystal-encrusted Bing mule and Saeda pump, which has a crystal-embellished ankle strap. And completing this stellar ensemble is the Bon Bon evening bag.

“When internally we really love a design and feel it is special, we just kind of know it,” Sandra explains. “We have collected plenty of pieces we adore over the years, they make sense because they embody everything that Jimmy Choo stands for: glamour, sexiness, uniqueness and because they are designed with integrity. Adding all of that together makes a key piece of work.” But the true test that elevates a shoe or bag to legendary status is ultimately determined by the customer.

“Absolutely, it is about popularity. I mean, we don’t send out a vote, but the client will judge and this is seen through demand. Sometimes we design something that the fashion world adores, but when that is accompanied by strong sales figures, then it becomes something amazing.”

Jimmy Choo's creative director Sandra Choi
Jimmy Choo's creative director Sandra Choi

Sandra was born on the Isle of Wight, where her parents are still based. In the 50s, her grandfather served as a cook on a boat, and when it ported in Liverpool he recognised the opportunities for immigrants to the UK; leading to him inviting her father, aunts and uncles to join him from Hong Kong. “They emigrated over here and my grandfather said, ‘Right, we can’t just be in Liverpool, or even through the western side of the country. We need to start somewhere where there are no Chinese restaurants and we will be the first’.” And so the choice was between Aberdeen or the Isle of Wight. “I could have been sitting here speaking in a Scottish accent,” she jokes. “But he picked the Isle of Wight and we were the first Chinese family on the island. My father then met my mum and I was born.”

When Sandra was eight months old she moved to Hong Kong to live with her grandparents, allowing her parents to run their fledgling restaurant. “I saw myself as lucky. People have said, ‘You grew up without your parents, how does that feel, isn’t it a bit weird?’.And I was like, ‘No, because I wouldn’t have anything to compare it to’. “And as grandchildren, you kind of get the best out of grandparents. So I lived through all the family histories and grew up seeing this exciting, vibrant city, which is amazing.

“As a teenager, I was so influenced and intrigued by Japanese pop culture. That was also the window to my eyes, seeing different things going on and I guess like most teenagers, I wanted to absorb everything I was fascinated by.” At 13, she moved back to the Isle of Wight to live with her parents, but it wasn’t long before a teenage Sandra took a train to Waterloo and headed to Hackney to live with her Auntie Rebecca and her husband Jimmy Choo, with the idea of going to fashion college.

“It is in our culture, that if a member of a family goes to stay with another set of the family you have to be productive and help out. So I worked in Jimmy’s studio and that’s how it all started.” Sandra did attend Central Saint Martins School of Design, but left the course early to continue working with her uncle. “I’ve been making things ever since I was a youngster, I would turn a pair of jeans into a bag, I would make textiles, so I’m very artistic – and my mum’s family is very artistic, so maybe that is where it comes from – but not necessarily from Mr Choo,” she laughs, pointing out that he is not a blood relative.

A sketch of the Saeda shoe
A sketch of the Saeda shoe

Jimmy Choo Yeang Keat, the son of a shoe cobbler, was born in Penang, Malaysia. He moved to London in the early 80s to study at Cordwainers, a prestigious shoe, boot-making and leather goods technical college in Hackney. He graduated with honours in 1983 and opened his first shop that year, also in Hackney.

Founded as the brand we know today in 1996 by Tamara Mellon the first Jimmy Choo boutique opened on London's Motcomb Street a year after launch. The brand's fame grew quickly and was an early adopter of red-carpet dressing. Mr Jimmy Choo left the business in 2001 with Tamara leaving the business in 2011. Sandra Choi, who had been leading the design team since the brand's inception, remained and was appointed creative director. In 1997 Princess Diana was photographed on the red carpet wearing Jimmy Choo sling-backs. The first New York store opened in 1998 and today they have 228. “So, almost 30 years of hard work,” she smiles.

It was in 2000 that Jimmy Choo achieved a momentous milestone. “When Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw wore our shoes on Sex and the City with the tagline: ‘I lost my Choo’, I think then we really became a household name.” The shoes she wore were from the spring 98 collection.

Since that epic TV moment, so many celebrities have chosen Jimmy Choo shoes, from distinguished events to everyday life, it is almost pointless to reel them off. Some of the most notable are when the former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama wore Jimmy Choo heels to both the presidential inauguration balls in 2009 and 2013. But also Beyoncé, Victoria Beckham, Emily Blunt, Cate Blanchett and Catherine, The Princess of Wales, are seemingly all also head over heels about the brand. “I lived it, breathed it and it’s so strange now seeing some of the original designs as vintage,” she says putting her head into her hands. “Oh dear, I’ve been here too long.”

Jimmy Choo shoes are beloved by It girls© Jimmy Choo
Jimmy Choo shoes are beloved by It girls

However, this successful longevity has allowed the brand itself to become pivotal in its industry. “I think we’ve gone past so many stages and now I can easily say, when you talk about shoes, Jimmy Choo is definitely one of the brands that is always mentioned.” Sandra describes herself as “pretty practical”, which includes when she is picking out a pair of shoes to wear personally. “It’s about what I’m doing that day and the weather. Is it going to be pouring down with rain? If it is, I also mustn’t wear long, long trousers,” she laughs.

“But there are days that I really want to wear a certain pair of shoes, so I need to kind of plan it to figure out whether volume or something more streamlined goes best with those shoes. I used to say that I hate pointy toes with volume pants. I need to eat my words. I actually do it myself now, so never say never. But the toe needs to be quite long, it can’t be a short point.” And being just “five-foot two-and-a-half” she tells us. that unless everyone else is wearing flats, it is hard [to carry them off]. “I have brought my flats out recently, just because they feel easy and refined. But today there are so many choices. You can be whoever you want every single morning.”

Sandra, whose favourite era for shoes is incidentally the 60s and 70s (definitely not the 80s) and who admires the late designer Roger Vivier for his “slick and refined” designs, cannot tell us how many pairs of shoes she owns personally. “There are too many,” she stresses. “In the middle of Somerset, there’s a warehouse that nobody knows about...”

For fashion, Sandra says she loves designers that give things a twist. “Personally, I admire Alexander McQueen and [the late] Lee McQueen himself. The way he treated his art and the way that he interpreted the detailing, workmanship and craft makes me kind of tear up every time I see it. I also love Rick Owens and Sockeye. But equally, I’m very happy with Arket.”

When we speak with Sandra, she has recently returned from the launch of the Jimmy Choo and Jean Paul Gautier collection in Paris. “It was amazing. I’ve never left Jimmy Choo to work for other brands, but I’ve always been given the incredible opportunity to collaborate with different teams. And that to me is great, because sometimes you can get too comfortable. I like to challenge myself with different techniques and aesthetics. That keeps the inspiration and the momentum going as you mature.” The collection, which was described as ‘a creative conversation between two fashion houses’, includes tattoo-print pumps and over-the-knee boots – blending Jimmy Choo’s signature styles with a dose of Jean Paul Gaultier’s tongue-in-cheek attitude.

“We’ve worked on it for a year, since inception to the finish, which was Kylie Minogue fronting the campaign – it kind of sealed this brilliant conclusion. Talking of icons: Jean Paul Gaultier; Jimmy Choo and Kylie Minogue – I mean, literally three icons in one.”

This interview appears in the February/March issue of Hello! Fashion... buy your copy in stores now or subscribe here.