Monday, June 17 2019

Fashion

Meet Jimmy Choo

 
His name is now synonymous with shoes-to-die-for, class, elegance and luxury. But the man himself has his feet firmly on the ground. Jimmy Choo’s life story is one of inspiration, devotion to one’s passion and the pursuit of excellence, finds Kuhu Kochar.
 
Born Jimmy Chow on the Elysian island of Penang into a family of shoemakers, a spelling error in his birth registration made him Jimmy Choo. Never having changed his name, he was determined to make a mark in fashion so monumental that the missing ‘w’ in his name would never re-occur to him. And today in this world filled with sartorial delights, a pair of Jimmy Choo Couture shoes is every woman’s dream. Exquisitely handcrafted, they have played lover to feet both royal and reel.
 
Sharing his life story with fashion students at the British Council, New Delhi, Dato’ Professor Jimmy YK Choo OBE says he made his first pair of shoes at the age of eleven, while working as his father’s apprentice. “I was born in a society where family values are most important and following the family trade is honourable and natural,” he explains. “I was soon developing skills and a deep understanding of what goes into the making of good quality shoes. My father designed shoes following traditional methods, and I followed in his footsteps. I used my mother as a model for my early shoes,” he recalls.
 
He soon moved to London in order to study footwear at Cordwainers College, and worked part-time at restaurants and as a cleaner at a shoe factory to help fund his college education. His hard work and dedication went hand-in-hand with his desire to make shoemaking into something of an art. “I want to create comfortable shoes,” he says. “This requires skill in cutting patterns so that the wearers feel comfortable in them.” This very quality in his work helped him stand out.
 
His first line was title Luckies: “It’s a crazy kind of name – ‘Lucky Shoes’ but in my culture it is good luck to call things ‘lucky’. It seems corny looking back, but that’s what I did.” The initial pieces were created in his workshop in an old hospital building in Hackney, London. Soon came along Vogue magazine with its eight-page feature on him in 1998, raving about these exotic delights. There was no looking back.
 
A man far too modest for his kind of fame, Professor Choo chuckles and says, “I thought, ‘My God, Vogue’. Their editorial said my shoes were special and unique and that the colour and designs employed were unusual and attractive. That feature gained me much recognition among some very influential people.” With his feet firmly rooted on the ground, Choo never imagined his shoes would make people feel like they were flying well above it.
 
Soon, Choo’s made-to-order designs, with their hand-stitched perfection, began to dot the fashion world. The late Princess Diana’s affair with Jimmy Choo Couture shoes came out of the closet after her separation from Prince Charles. What was it like to work with her, we ask, and his face lights up. “When I got the first call from Diana, I first thought it must be a joke, but when I met her she was very relaxed, offered me tea and we just discussed shoes.” Reflecting on his memories of her, he says, “Lady Di helped me a lot. She trusted me, and for all the seven years I made shoes for her, nobody knew it was me. She often wanted very simple things. She loved flat pumps, even though I always wanted to put her in sandals because she had the most perfect feet. I made her last pair of shoes just before she died. Gold pumps. I was going to deliver them when she came back from her summer. I am sad I never could.”
 
her summer. I am sad I never could.” Professor Choo has been honoured with an OBE and a professorship from the London School of Fashion. His homeland of Malaysia has dubbed him ‘Dato’ and ‘Darjah Setia Pangkuan’. “‘Dato’ is a sort of knighthood. The word actually means ‘Sir’ in Malaysia,” he explains. “Again, ‘Darjah Setia Pangkuan’ is a government award in Malaysia, which means that they think I have accomplished something particularly meritorious,” he says with good humour.
 
Choo is currently ambassador for footwear education at the London College of Fashion and a mentor to students. “I employ them and offer work experience, I train them and give guidance on buying fabric, leathers and other materials.” He is also a spokesperson for the British Council, where we caught up with him.
 
His growing reputation demanded the setup of a ready-to-wear operation, which he subsequently gave up in 2001. While there were plenty of shoes being factorymade to cater to market needs, Choo quietly continued to work on his couture line, with not just technical know-how but pure love. When asked why he gave up his multi-million dollar empire, he replies, “So that I could be a free person. I now concentrate only on my couture label, and this is better for me and the family.”
 
There’s a reachable air to Choo, something so warm you want to get up and hug him as he jokes around. He weaves together a rosy reality, a confluence of hard work and dedication. “When everyone wants you or your product, then it will mean more work for you,” he says.
 
Today, Jimmy Choo Couture is available only by appointment at 18 Connaught Street in London.
 
 
 
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