When celebrity designer shoes and handbags are on the menu, Jimmy Choo collection comes into mind immediately without hesitation. The London-based Malaysian is a luxury fashion designer who has became a legend in designing handmade women shoes.
Jimmy Choo Yeang Keat, OBE, was born in 1961 to a family with traditions in the shoe business in Penang. Ironically, he walked barefoot for eleven years, until he made himself a handmade shoe. Yet this small-bodied man was to rise to be the finest among the greatest shoe designers of all time, 35 years later. Choo’s story is of triumph, talent and passion. Jimmy Choo designs hooked the world with his pointed shoe designs and high-heeled stilettos.
Choo, a Malaysian citizen with roots in Hakka Chinese, found his way joined to Hackney, London where he enrolled at the now famous constituent College of London College of Fashion, Cordwainers’ Training College. Until today his name reverberates in the college as a star whose talent made a lasting impression even in those college days. By the time he graduated in 1983, his friends and teachers knew he was headed high in the fashion business. Yet at this time, there was nothing else promising about the lad, except his raw talent of creating shoes and giving them a lace of fashion. For one, he had no funds to launch him into the career since he actually had funded his own way through college through part time jobs in restaurants.
Just before finishing college, Jimmy Choo got another part time job in a London shoe factory as a cleaner. This single experience was to count as his greatest motivator towards eventual successes. Here he interacted with shoes, he saw shoes on production lines, and he touched them, and felt their warmth as he scrubbed the floors. It was here that he identified what machine hand shoes lacked, and here where he established an idea that shoes needed a touch of the human hand to make them really special. Given his background in shoe making, Choo had very little else in his mind but shoes.
Three years later, Choo scrapped a few coins here and there and started a rented workshop right there in a Hackney neighborhood. The beginnings were humble, but in that old hospital building where he first sat to make his own shoes there was something very rare, talent. That talent soon started spilling out in each shoe that Choo designed. He would spend hours with a shoe, touching it, giving it his handwork signature and by the time a client got the shoe, it was all Jimmy Choo heels. Friends brought friends; workers brought colleagues, if only to see this guy who could make a ‘shoe like that with his hands’.
It was not hard therefore, for celebrities in the day to hear about his rare shoes craftsmanship. Though sitting on the floor most of the times, what he let go from that workshop in Hackney bore his signature. He had a way of seeing the needs of a woman in a shoe; he was later to say that each shoe was designed with a woman in mind. He gained fame around London and earned the patronage of very influential customers. Within no time, the workshop had evolved into a modern-type workshop, with only one difference, Jimmy Choo believed in making the shoe by hand, to the greatest extent possible. In 1990, four years after starting the humble workshop, Jimmy Choo collection of handwork shoes was featured by Vogue magazine in a standing record of eight straight pages.
That was enough to launch him as a mega star, with international fame to boot. By 1990, every woman with a name in London had sought out Jimmy Choo designs and without exception, become a client. Among the patrons then were many women in the British government, who came with their top range vehicles outside Choo’s workshop and scurried in to make an order. When for instance, Diana, the princess of Wales, bought a shoe from Choo in 1990, she became and remained a loyal customer until the end.
Such was the genius of Jimmy Choo designs. It was all inlaid in those Jimmy Choo heels, the passion reverberated in every cut, the edges were tenderly fashioned into perfection by the caring hands and after hours with the shoes, he would put it down and walk back to inspect it from every angle. The tradition was established, and that tradition became part of the workshop where Choo first became a shoemaker. Every employee knew how much a shoe meant to Choo and they also followed suit in giving a shoe what he called, ‘a woman persona’.
It was Tamara Mellon, the editor of British Vogue Accessories, who would later emerge to give Choo the cooperate edge of the workshop and helped transform the workshop to a great shoe center. In 1996, the two co-founded the Jimmy Choo Ltd, which grew phenomenally in the next five years. In 2001 however, Choo sold his stake at Jimmy Choo Ltd for a whooping Ten million pounds and walked on to launch an exclusive Jimmy Choo collection of Couture line. The fashion line was licensed by Jimmy Choo Ltd. He is now exclusively in Couture designs, holding showrooms by appointment only. Jimmy Choo heels are in boutiques all over the world today with prices for design shoes starting at USD$ 300.
Although Choo still resides in London today, he is an icon in Malaysia. He is currently running a shoe making training institute in the country, to inspire, nurture and fund young fashion talents in shoe making and fashion. In 2001, he was conferred upon an OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England, in recognition of his austere contribution to the UK fashion industry, particularly in terms of shoes. The Sultans of two Malaysian states including Penang conferred the title Dato, to honor his achievements in 2000 and 2002. The University of The Arts London recently awarded him a fellowship and conferred on him the honorary title of Professor in recognition of his genius.
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