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.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Front Page -

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

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