Business Class with Sandra Choi: An Interview with the Creative Director of Jimmy Choo

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Photo: Courtesy of Jimmy Choo

Sandra Choi has sole – and she’s not afraid to share it. As the Creative Director of famed footwear label Jimmy Choo, Choi has been responsible for designing the brand’s footwear since its inception in 1996 – working first for her uncle, Jimmy Choo himself, and then for Tamara Mellon, before being named the exclusive Creative Director in 2013. In this interview, Choi talks us through the hallmark moments of her career, defines the attributes of the Jimmy Choo woman, and dispenses valuable advice on what it takes to navigate the ever-evolving footwear industry.

Let’s start with the basics, where did you first learn shoe design and how did you first become involved in fashion? 

I did a foundation course at Central St. Martins before I went on to study fashion, but I didn’t finish it, because I had the opportunity through Jimmy Choo to design and be involved in the fashion business there and then, which I couldn’t turn down. I trained at Jimmy Choo’s original workshop, generally helping out. I learned everything on the job.

Tell us about some hallmark moments in your career.
When we first started, I thought of the company in days and weeks rather than years. So when we opened three major stores in a very short space of time, including one just off Fifth Avenue and Beverly Hills, it really paved the way for the brand and established us in the fashion world. The first time we went over to LA for the Oscars and set up our Oscars suite was another milestone moment. It wasn’t glamorous – we were unpacking the boxes ourselves – but it was still exciting and we were so surprised by the response we had. Sex and The City was a big moment for us and is part of our heritage and popular culture history. Jimmy Choo has been featured in many films over the years, more notably in In Her Shoes and The Devil Wears Prada.

Sex and The City was a big moment for us and is part of our heritage and popular culture history.

If you wish you had received one piece of professional advice when starting out, what would it be?
I have learned so much working at Jimmy Choo, but I missed out on the camaraderie with other graduates that comes with studying in those formative years of your career. So stay in school! Also, when you start out, try as many things as you can before settling on a profession – too many people are rigid when they set out to do something. Allow for mistakes, because they may lead you to something ultimately more fulfilling.

Who are your personal business icons/ influences? Who inspires you every day?
I think Natalie Massenet is an inspirational success story of our time. However, on an everyday basis, I feel so fortunate to wake up and want to go to work. Doing what I want to do is inspiring enough – I feel like it has to come from within.

Speaking of inspiration, what type of women do you base your designs on?
The Jimmy Choo woman isn’t defined by where she lives, her age, or career. The qualities she shares are a sense of empowerment and confidence, but she can also be rebellious, chic, and humorous, as well as being elegant, sexy, and glamorous. She is modern, respects fashion, loves design, and evolves with trends. I like to fantasize about who she might be as she struts down the street. With each collection, there is a new interpretation of her, but ultimately my muse is always the same type of woman.

The Jimmy Choo woman isn’t defined by where she lives, her age, or career.

The brand is known for its high heels, but the ‘ChOO.08’ collection is a mix of flats and sneakers. Can you talk more about the decision behind this shift in aesthetic?
I’ve watched the trainer and biker boot success story continue with every season, so I felt confident to branch out with ‘CHOO.08’. It finds its roots in London, so naturally it pushes the boundary of creativity, allowing us to experiment with volume and alternative fashion moments.

Rumor has it that you favor flats over heels for the office. How much does the ‘ChOO.08’ collection derive from your personal style?
Anything I design will naturally include some facet of my own personal style, but ‘CHOO.08’ includes a wide variety of flats and voluminous heels, which suits my day-to-day style, like skinny jeans or trousers with a silk or cashmere top. I like to work my look around my shoes. My black matte skaters, called ‘Demi’, are great to run around in at work, but don’t be alarmed – there is always a pointy-toe pump ready to transform any outfit close by.

What’s on the horizon for the Jimmy Choo brand?
In the short term, I want surprising stories with a twist. I want our small projects to take bold steps. In the long term, I want the brand to outlive me and everyone else involved – keep glowing, keep lighting up with every collection.

Lastly, what items could we expect to find on your office desk?
Fashion magazines, a sketching pad, a pot full of well-used markers and pencils, art books of the season, a growing pile of tabbed “to read” articles, and a vase of Eucalyptus foliage. I love the smell that the leaves gradually release.

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