Jimmy Choo Shoes: The Man Behind The Expensive Shoes
Jimmy Choo...you may have first heard his name on the fashion-driven autobiographical fiction "Sex & The City." His name was probably lumped in with many other designers...Manolo Blahnik, Ferragamo, Chanel, and Gucci, but Jimmy Choo was the one that seemed to register with everyone...perhaps, because his name seemed like he could be every man. And at one time, Jimmy Choo was every man.
Born in Malaysia in 1961, Chow (through a mistake on his birth certificate, it was mispelled Choo) Yeang Keat had a very humble upbringing. He came from a family of shoemakers and was said to have created his first pair of shoes at the tender age of eleven. Amazingly, he only finished six years of school at the primary school in Malaysia where he grew up, but ended up at Cordwainer's Technical College, which is now the London School of Fashion. Graduating in 1983 after working his way through college cleaning at a shoe factory and waiting tables, Choo quietly worked his way into a reputation as a dedicated and hard working shoemaker with more than a touch of artistry to his work.
The Beginning Of The Jimmy Choo Empire
Choo started his first workshop in an old hospital building in Hackney, London in 1988. His shoes were delicate, hand-made all in-house and caught the eye of Vogue Magazine which was a great stroke of luck for Choo. Vogue ran an eight-page spread featuring Choo's shoes and he became a sensation...but hardly an overnight one since he had been making shoes almost his entire life! One of his most notable clients was Princess Diana, who owned multiple pairs of shoes he made for her. She even owned several in the same design, but in different colors to go with her ever-changing wardrobe. Rumor was that the statuesque Princess Diana at 5'10' tall could only wear the very high heel Jimmy Choo's she adored after the split from also 5'10" Prince Charles! In fact, Choo was scheduled to deliver a pair of shoes to her on the day she was tragically killed and he has kept the shoes in remembrance of her.
Choo partnered with Tamara Yeardye Mellon in1996 to start Jimmy Choo Shoes, Ltd, also known as Jimmy Coo Ready-to-Wear. Mellon, daughter of the creator of the Vidal Sassoon hair care line, Tom Yeardye, was fashion accessories editor at British Vogue Magazine. Mellon ran the operations and Choo did what he knew best, made shoes. Together, they formed a successful partnership. Jimmy Choo's name quickly became known as the ultimate in beautiful, luxurious...and very high end shoes.
The Division Of An Empire
Enter Jimmy Choo's niece, Sandra Choi, who was born on a small island off the coast of England, but was raised in Hong Kong. She came to live with her aunt and uncle in 1991 to attend the Saint Martin Art School, but was quickly swept up in the family shoe business. She worked alongside her incredibly talented uncle, making custom-made-to-order shoes for a, excuse the pun, well-heeled clientele, including movie stars and royalty. Mellon and Choo came to a parting of the way for several reasons, but the main one was that Choo was a shoemaker, not a shoe manufacturer. He took pride in the custom shoes he created and was not interested in designing "lines" of shoes. However, Mellon was and so was his niece, Sandra Choi. When the company split in 2001, Choo sold his share to Mellon for 10 million pounds. Choi went to work with Mellon, instead of her uncle, a move that brought much discord to the family. Choi began designing the moneymaking "lines" that Mellon wanted and they were the toast of the fashion world, being seen on all the Milan and Paris runways during Fashion Week. Jimmy Choo Ready-to-Wear retained Choo's name, although the shoes were no longer made by Choo himself.
Materials Used For Jimmy Choo's
Jimmy Choo quietly went about the business of custom making shoes again with his own small company. His artistry in the shoe making business is unparalleled. Many of the stars who wear his shoes say they are the most comfortable AND sexy shoes they have ever owned. Designing high heels that are comfortable is no small feat. It takes a combination of artistic talent, craft, and engineering which Jimmy Choo has in spades. One of the things that make his shoes so unique is the materials he uses. Choo loves to use unusual materials for his shoes, of course, for the "wow" factor, but also because some of the materials are actually easier to work with and tend to dye better than others. Snakeskin, particularly python, is one of his preferred materials, as well as fish scales and even fur and feathers. He has even created shoes with genuine diamonds including some of those used in a Vogue photo shoot worth $1,000,000! He also uses luxury fabrics, such as suede, satin, and shantung.
Jimmy Choo Couture
After the split from Mellon and his niece, Jimmy Choo went back to what he knew and loved best, making beautiful and exquisite shoes. His company, Jimmy Choo Couture only produces three to four of his handmade creations per day by special order and appointment only with prices on the low end starting at $350 and ranging into the tens of thousands, depending on the materials and design.
In 2000, Choo was awarded the esteemed title of Dato by the Sultan of Pahang. In 2003, Choo was awarded an OBE, the Order of the British Empire, by the Queen of England herself for helping to make London a center of the fashion industry. Choo also is helping to start shoemaking schools in his hometown to teach young Malaysians what he learned about the business as he was growing up. He teaches as a professor part-time at the London School of Design, where he himself graduated. Although Jimmy Choo Ready-to-Wear is now worth $180 million pounds, they are no longer shoes made by Jimmy Choo. So if you want real Jimmy Choo shoes, the quiet and incredibly talented man from Malaysia is still making shoes the old-fashioned way in London, as he did many years ago, one pair at a time. Just call for an appointment...bank account in hand...