Jimmy Choo — the brand, not the person — is a household name that has dressed many celebrities and royalty, from Beyoncé Knowles to Princess Diana. It derives its name from fashion designer Datuk’ Professor Jimmy Choo Yeang Keat OBE, who co-founded it with former British Vogue journalist Tamara Mellon in London in 1996. Choo, who was born in Penang and now resides in London, first learnt the craft of making footwear from his cobbler father — which led him to create some of the most coveted shoes in the world.
The 68-year-old designer parted ways with his eponymous brand in 2001, but continues to make hand-crafted shoes for Zhou Yang Jie (his Chinese name,) a label he operates in London.
We caught up with Choo when he recently stopped by for the launch of Huawei’s latest P10 and P10 Plus, and heard all about his secrets to success, the importance of having a good team, and staying humble.
I started from the bottom. My parents weren’t rich. When I was studying in London at the Cordwainers Technical College (now part of the London College of Fashion,) I worked in a restaurant over the weekends. I didn’t mind doing anything, even cleaning the floor and washing toilets. I worked so hard that my boss and managers loved me. I thought to myself, “I’m young, I can do everything.”
Don’t make excuses for yourself. Stay confident and convince yourself that nothing is too hard for you to handle. It’s all about your mindset. You have to tell yourself, “Look, I can make it.”
I don’t ever want to stop, I don’t want to slow down. I believe that even when I’m 100, I’ll still be making shoes. Why? Because my heart is still young.
If I didn’t have media supporting me in London when I first started, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I don’t believe in rejecting interviews. Media coverage is good for you — the media are my friends. If Vogue didn’t give me that first eight-page spread in 1988, I wouldn’t have established my name in the fashion industry.
I always keep to my word. If I promise a client that I’ll finish a shoe one week before a show, I’ll get it done on time. If it’s not finished, I won’t go home.
I remember the last time I was commissioned to make a shoe for Helmut Lang and Paul Smith. I didn’t go home for four days. I only slept for two hours on the sofa, and continued when I woke up. I had my staff with me, so I had to be a good role model and show them how strong I was.
If you want to be successful, it’s important to have the right team working alongside you. The best ones, you’ll always have to pay more. You need a great assistant, marketing team, lawyer and accountant. These people will protect you — and keep things confidential.
These are the things I live by: Be nice, sincere and honest to people. Don’t cheat, and don’t con. It doesn’t matter if people spread malicious rumours about you. People have the freedom to do or say what they want, just ignore them. Be happy yourself, and maintain a strong mindset.
Constantly learn from other people. Don’t ever think that you are the best. And once you have the knowledge and skills, pass them on to the future generation. The best designers always seek inspiration for different bags and shoes.
My advice to young designers: Start small and slowly build yourself up. Ask for people’s opinions, go to shops and look at what others are doing. Be inspired, but don’t copy. Do something very original yourself. You have to love what you do and be proud of your work.