MY LIFE, MY STYLE At home with Sandra Choi of Jimmy Choo
Jimmy Choo’s creative director Sandra Choi showcases her artistic flair in her elegant wardrobe and London home
Asking Sandra Choi, the creative director of Jimmy Choo, to pick her favourite shoe is a bit like asking a parent to choose between their children. But she gamely offers an answer: ‘The Pascha rope-strap flat sandal. It symbolises relaxation because it’s my holiday shoe – it’s like a trusted good friend.’ Choi has worked for the luxury-footwear company (which was recently sold to Michael Kors for £900 million) since her late teens, and after taking the creative reins in 2013, revitalised the brand with new women’s designs, a range of trainers and a men’s collection. Her playful, androgynous style is evident when we meet at her home in Battersea; a trademark asymmetrical haircut, ear cuffs and a silk kimono top over jeans.
Choi was born on the Isle of Wight, but was sent to live with her grandparents in Hong Kong at just eight months old, while her parents focused on building their restaurant business. ‘Despite the fact that I grew up without my mum, I’m grateful because I learnt so much about my heritage,’ she says. As a child she looked to Japanese pop stars for sartorial inspiration: ‘My father got the biggest shock when he picked me up at the airport coming back to Britain aged 13; I had half my hair shaved off, and wore the baggiest jeans, a Paisley shirt and white lace-up shoes.’
It was while reading a copy of Just Seventeen magazine as a teenager that Choi realised she wanted to be a designer. ‘I saw a model wearing this deconstructed, double-breasted jacket from John Galliano’s
graduate show,’ she says. ‘And that was it – the way he had manipulated the fabric fascinated me.’ So at 17 she left home and went up to London to stay with her aunt, who was married to Jimmy Choo, then a couture shoemaker based in the East End. ‘My parents might say that I was rebellious, but I think I just knew what I wanted,’ she says. ‘In my culture it’s easier to understand career goals like being a lawyer, an accountant or doctor – they didn’t understand fashion.’
Her determination won her a place on the foundation course at Central Saint Martins, but she spent most of her time helping out at her uncle’s studio, answering the phone to clients and pulling fabrics from the cupboard to match the dresses they were having made. ‘I began to learn how the mechanism worked, and that kind of sucked me in,’ she says. ‘So I decided to axe school, thinking I was in my early twenties and I could always go back. I never did.’
By the time the first Jimmy Choo store opened in 1996, the label had a number of VIP clients, including Princess Diana. ‘She was lovely and down-to-earth; she used to drive over, park on the double-yellow line outside, and come into the shop cursing the parking wardens.’ While Diana’s star power undoubtedly launched the fledgling brand on the world stage when she stepped out at a Chicago gala wearing a purple Versace dress and matching Jimmy Choo heels, it was the shoes’ starring role in Sex and the City – and subsequently on the Oscars red carpet, worn by Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman – that made it a household name.
Much like Carrie Bradshaw, Choi has an enviable and eclectic wardrobe, filled with pieces from Mother of Pearl, Sacai, Jacquemus, Joseph, Preen, Saint Laurent and Marques’Almeida. (The only thing you won’t find in there are her leather trousers, which she keeps in the freezer to kill germs.) ‘There’s always a juxtaposition,’ she says. ‘I like to do tough with romantic; I add a twist. If I was wearing something floaty, I would put a great big pair of boots underneath.’ I tell her I’m struggling to believe a
claim that she only has 600 pairs of Jimmy Choos, considering she has been with the company for 21 years… ‘Oh, that’s here at home – I also have a storage facility,’ she says. ‘One day, I might have a museum!’
Choi’s other passion is jewellery. Today, she is wearing a dazzling assortment of rings from Repossi; a vintage Hermès band from an LA fleamarket; and another that says ‘Love’ by the German jeweller Cada, which her artist husband Tamburlaine Gorst bought from Dover Street Market as a standin when he proposed, and which she has worn ever since. The couple have two daughters – sevenyearold Phoenix and Cyan, who is four; each receives a raw gemstone every year on their birthdays, so that when they turn 21 they will have enough to create their own piece of jewellery.
The family home is within easy reach of Battersea Park. ‘We bought the house in 2011 when Phoenix was just about walking,’ Choi says. ‘It was newly done by the previous owner, and we just decked it out and warmed it up with our own touches.’ The rooms contain a fascinating collection of treasures, so that you feel like you are walking around an art or sculpture gallery. Choi loves nothing more than to go antiques shopping with her husband, citing Alfies on Church Street, the Battersea Park antiques fair and Alex Macarthur in Brighton as their preferred spots. ‘We’re hunters for anything that has a character and a story,’ she says, ‘but I’m also a regular at Howe on Pimlico Road, where we buy textiles and sofas, which look oldeworlde but are actually made to order.’
In the sittingroom, a collection of airportlounge lights from the 1930s have been reconfigured to create a unique centrepiece. On the walls hang a painting of a bull terrier by Ray Richardson and a piece titled Trace Fire I by the Iraqi artist Hanaa Malallah, made from burnt bandages. ‘It tells the story
Sandra Choi at her dining-table wearing wool jumper, £795, Victoria Beckham. Suede heels, £695, Jimmy Choo. Jeans and jewellery (throughout), her own
Silk mix dress, £3,795, Loewe. Below right: ‘Spirit’ by Tim Flach,
hanging in the sitting-room
Left: a Ray Richardson painting in the
Below: jacquard jumpsuit, £495, Mother of Pearl
A selection of Choi’s Jimmy Choos
in the bedroom Right: ‘Trace Fire I’ by Hanaa Malallah in the sitting-room