Queen of sole
Dream-job alert! Meet Sandra Choi, the creative director of Jimmy Choo, the adored shoe brand that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Meet Sandra Choi, the creative director of Jimmy Choo
You probably know a thing or two about Jimmy Choo: Princess Diana was one of the brand’s first clients; in the early 2000s, it was canonised on Sex and the City when Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) famously proclaimed, “Wait, I lost my Choo!” Since then, Jimmy Choos have adorned the feet of everyone from US First Lady Michelle Obama
to Beyoncé. But you may not know the woman behind the brand: Sandra Choi, whose 20-year rise makes for a very convincing case study in delayed gratification and proof that success takes more than an Insta-second.
“There are no shortcuts to doing what I do,” says Sandra. “You have to know your craft and respect the fundamentals of shoe design. It can’t be born purely out of creativity.” She should know: Sandra was the company’s first employee. Jimmy Choo, the brand’s namesake and founder, is her aunt’s husband.
At 17, Sandra, a “headstrong” teen with traditional Chinese parents, left her home in the UK after her parents refused to support her art-college dream. Fortuitously, she moved in with her aunt and Jimmy, who was then colour-matching shoes to gowns for the likes of Princess Diana from his small, dusty workshop in London’s East End.
“When you’re Chinese and living with family, you work with family,” she says. “It’s cultural. I was really into making things, and this world of fabrics and sewing machines was amazing.”
She briefly attended the prestigious fashion design school Central Saint Martins, but admits, “I hardly went. I was so into work, doing everything I could: the organisation, dealing with customers… I just got involved.”
Then, in 1996, the London social star Tamara Mellon came on board and, with Jimmy and Sandra, transformed the small shop into a global empire.
Practically overnight, Jimmy Choo became synonymous with glitzy heels. Tamara was the brand’s spokesperson and face, and Sandra “navigated how the collections should look”.
In 2001, Jimmy left the brand, and in 2011, Tamara departed. Of those dramatic twists, Sandra says, “You have these moments in business. If I had let them defeat me, I wouldn’t be here.”
She stepped up to the top design role – and propelled the company beyond its stiletto-only image. Today, flat biker boots are among Jimmy Choo’s bestsellers, and stylish women are as likely to buy a faux-snakeskin sneaker as a pom pom-adorned heel.
“I knew we could be broader than teetering stilettos,” says Sandra, who rocks an asymmetrical haircut and ear cuffs. “Jimmy Choo is very much about glamour, but the modern woman has choices, like wearing flats to an event.”
As for her leadership style, she says, “I’m firm, but fair. Women tend to work harder because emotion comes into play. We have a natural urge to nurture, and that’s a strength in business.”
When it comes to her other roles, Sandra is wife to an artist husband and mother to daughters Phoenix and Cyan.
“With my family, I’m a mother and wife,” she says. She hopes her daughters will, one day, gain more than her 600pair shoe collection – she wants them to learn the work ethic her grandparents instilled when she lived with them in Hong Kong from age eight to 13.
“I always put it in simple terms for them,” she says. “Knowledge is king, and when and if they find something difficult, they shouldn’t give up. Those are core values, and when those are in place, they can do whatever they want.”
Of course, Sandra has the perfect shoe to wear for any role. When she means business, she slips into towering Jimmy Choo Romy black suede pumps, but she’s also been partial to gem-encrusted combat-style Hatcher boots. “I remember times in life by the shoes I had on,” she explains. “Like the moment when I first met my husband, I was wearing tan sandals with studs.”
Would you expect anything else from the queen of Jimmy Choo? “I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time,” says Sandra of her professional rise. “Having said that, I think that tenacity and believing in yourself, combined with hard work, will reap rewards in the long term.”
Princess Diana Carrie Bradshaw Michelle Obama Beyoncé
2013 1996 2008 2009
Jimmy Choo’s A-list clientele