Fashion designer Jimmy Choo used the craftsmanship he learned from his father, also a cobbler, to create some of the most coveted shoes in the world. Choo rose to fame for the quality and style of his handmade women's shoes.
Jimmy Choo Yeang Keat was born in 1948 in Penang, Malaysia. The son of a shoe cobbler, Choo was immersed in the world of shoemaking from an early age. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps, and by age 11, Choo had made his first pair of shoes. "When I first started, my father wouldn't let me make a shoe," recalled the designer. "Instead, he said: 'Sit and watch, sit and watch.' For months and months, I did that." After learning from his father about the craft of shoemaking, Choo made his way to England in the early 1980s to study at the Cordwainers Technical College in Hackney, where he graduated with honors in 1983.
Choosing to remain in England, Choo opened his first shop in Hackney in 1986 in an old hospital building. It didn't take long for Choo's reputation to build. Within two years of opening his shop, Choo's shoes were featured in an eight-page spread in Vogue magazine.
Soon, Choo became the darling of the celebrity world, in particular Princess Diana, who donned Choo's footwear seemingly everywhere she went.
But it was his relationship with Vogue that would prove to be instrumental in the rise of the Jimmy Choo brand. Despite the rise of his popularity, Choo was still a small operation, producing just 20 handmade pairs of shoes per week. But Tamara Yeardye Mellon, an accessories editor at Vogue, who often hired Choo to make shoes for fashion shoots, sensed a larger market for Choo's creations. She approached the shoemaker about partnering to create a line of ready-to-wear footwear.
Together, Choo and Mellon quickly grew the business, keeping the focus on creating high-end footwear, but no longer relying on the idea that every single pair had to be made by Choo himself. They contracted with Italian factories and opened their first boutique shop in London.
By the late 1990s, Choo had stores in Los Angeles and New York and lineup of adoring Hollywood celebrities that included Julia Roberts and Renee Zellweger.
By the turn of the century, the Choo name was a global brand, with high-end retail clients that included Harrods and Saks Fifth Avenue carrying Choo footwear. The Choo brand had also expanded to handbags and other accessories.
But in the background, all was not well. Choo and Mellon were at odds about the direction of the company. In what would become one of the more fascinating rifts in the fashion industry, Choo didn't think bigger was better. He questioned the quality of the shoes the company was making, and seemed to long for the days when he was back at his shop in Hackney, making a small number of pieces of footwear for specific clients.
In 2001, Choo sold his half of the company to Robert Bensoussan of Equinox Luxury Holdings for $30 million.
Today, Choo has returned to his roots at a small shop he opened in London, which serves as the headquarters for the exclusive Jimmy Choo Couture line. It's here that Choo crafts a small number of pairs of shoes each week and trains a select group of students on how to make high-end footwear.
For Choo, a devout Buddhist, education has become a central part of his life. In recent years he has become an Ambassador for Footwear Education at the London College of Fashion and spokesperson for the British Council in its efforts to reach out to foreign students. Choo is also a recipient of the O.B.E. (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).
For all his success, the designer has not been immune to backlash. In late 2017, Choo released a commercial in which model/actress Cara Delevingne struts down the street amid catcalls and leering pedestrians, prompting accusations that company executives were tone deaf.
Choo, who has a daughter and a son, resides with his wife, Rebecca, in London.