I sit waiting in the suite on the 42nd floor of the Shangri-La Hotel, off the disturbingly busy Sheikh Zayed Road. As I wait in the plush room, I peer, nervously from the glass window to take in the view. The cars from all the way up there look like little ants. It got me thinking, that out of all of the people busy like little worker ants on the weekend, I am lucky enough to be able to take half an hour out to meet perhaps one of the most genius creatures in fashions’ history.
I am here to meet Jimmy Choo. The man behind one of the most iconic shoe labels in the history of fashion. The man who has maintained a steady position within the industry for 21 years. He is in town for the weekend to support Caroline Castigliano in the showing of her latest wedding collection.
As we sit down in the suite, I notice how poised and composed this god of shoes really is. Actually he is nothing like the frantic world of fashion that he comes from. In fact, Jimmy started out from very humble beginnings and he insists that this is what has kept him so level headed. “My father taught me the knowledge and importance of handcrafted design”. With a chuckle he adds “I touch people’s feet.” Obviously not the most glamorous of occupations we joke. He continues: “my right foot is wider than my left, so I have to make my own shoes. Everyone is like that - even you.” To which I admit I do indeed have a left foot longer than the right.
So how does a man from Malaysia wind up in the fast paced world of fashion in the style hub that is London? “My parents moved over to help me set up.” He speaks highly of his father, who he admits taught him a lot. “We didn’t come from much so now I try and support my family. I’ve only got my sister who’s a housewife; I like to look after my family now.”
He started out at a prestigious school in the UK. “I studied shoe design at Cordwainers College in London for three years.” After that he fashioned his designs in what was the begging of a shoe era that would see Jimmy loose his namesake, his business and begin on the road of recovery.
“Tom Yeardye was in business with me, not Tamara. She was just the looks behind the brand I guess. We were in business together for ten years. Tommy, Tamara’s father used to be behind Vidal Sassoon.” This is how Jimmy describes his vested years in what people today now know as Jimmy Choo. When Yeardye sadly died of a brain aneurysm it was Tamara who took over the business.
And will the real Jimmy Choo please stand up. “My shoes are couture” not like the other party types. Jimmy explains of the difference between a Jimmy Choo Tamara Mellon style and his hand crafted designs. Now Jimmy has his own label, Jimmy Choo Couture. “I don’t do shoes anymore for shows. I used to for Helmut Lang and Paul Smith but not anymore.” Today he simply dresses the feet of the rich and famous.
Jimmy has set up shop in Connaught St, London where he continues to work his shoe magic. “We make about 1000 shoes a year. Our customer is very special – the Royal Family, celebrities, high society clients.” He also specializes in wedding shoes. “We design shoes in fabric mostly – satin for bridal shoes. Usually they are high heels which are one to four inches in height.” That is, four inches of pure delight.
With the Couturier quite intent with his humble little shop, I started to wonder, what does he do in his spare time? “I travel a lot. I love to travel.” Jimmy was named Malaysian Toursim Ambassador last year, and rightly so with the amount of time he dedicates to him homeland. “I go home eight to ten times a year. Not two or three years apart like everyone else. I love my country.”
He is also an avid advisor on shoe design teaching students all around the world and in particular at the London College of Fashion. He says of his students, “you have to have an eye for design.” And the world is ready to welcome the shoe-spring of Jimmy Choo's to come.