Jimmy, Sandra and Lucy – these are the key players in the Choo history, but who did what? WGSN Director of Brand and Propositions Lauretta Roberts decodes the family tree
London-based footwear designer Lucy Choi has just announced she will set up her first standalone boutique in the rarefied surroundings of London’s Connaught Village. She will officially open the doors of her “shoe candy heaven” next month at number 18 Connaught Street. Which is significant. For this is the former home of her uncle Jimmy Choo’s couture footwear atelier.
The story of the Choo/Choi shoe dynasty (and but for a slip of the pen it could have been Chow), is a compelling, and in parts complex, one. So now seems a good time to break it down.
The story starts with…
Jimmy Choo, the man
Jimmy Choo arrived in London from Malaysia in the early 1980s. He was from a family of shoemakers and claimed to have made his first shoes at the age of 11. His original name was Jimmy Chow and reports vary on whether the swapping of the “w” for an “o” was deliberate or an administrative error. (But whatever, it was a masterstroke of branding; “Choos” became a synonym for posh shoes in the late 90s and beyond.)
Choo graduated from London’s famous Cordwainers Technical College in 1984 (it is now part of the London College of Fashion), having funded his studies in part by working as a cleaner in a shoe factory. After graduation he went on to set up a workshop in Hackney and his big break came when British Vogue featured his designs in an eight-page spread in 1988. His reputation was assured when Diana, Princess of Wales discovered him in 1990.
But it was another high-profile woman who really created…
Jimmy Choo, the brand
In 1996, a former accessories editor at Vogue, Tamara Mellon (then Tamara Yeardye) approached Choo to set up the brand which was to become the next big thing in luxury shoes, beloved by Hollywood A listers and musicians alike. So much so that songs were even written about them including Shyne ft Ashanti’s Jimmy Choo and countless others.
By 2001 Mellon and Choo’s relationship had ended (not exactly amicably, as has been well documented) and Choo sold his 50% stake in the brand that carried his name.
He then set up his Jimmy Choo Couture line, making hand-made shoes for private clients which he ran out of 18 Connaught Street. He went on to receive an OBE and the title of Dato’ (effectively the Malaysian equivalent of Sir).
However, Jimmy Choo the brand, still retained a strong link to the Choo dynasty thanks to…
Sandra Choi, niece one
Sandra Choi, who trained with her uncle, was joint creative director at the brand through her uncle’s tenure, having started working with him in 1989. Indeed she is still there to this day and was appointed sole creative director in 2013.
Tamara Mellon, on the other hand, departed the business in 2011 having had a very public falling out with its then new owners Labelux, and the bad blood between the two continues to this day. She recently accused the brand of trying to undermine her latest venture – her own brand Tamara Mellon founded in 2013 – by forbidding suppliers to do business with her.
Still despite this spat Jimmy Choo, the brand, keeps on going and growing and Sandra Choi, who vowed to give the brand “a good shake” when she gained full creative control, has successfully taken it beyond its heartland of the strappy heeled sandal.
But all eyes this week are on Sandra’s sister, who is…
Lucy Choi, niece two
Ironically, given it is she who has taken over the hallowed 18 Connaught Street, Lucy Choi was something of a family rebel and didn’t want to get into shoe business.
She studied business before taking a job in sales but the pull of footwear eventually got to her and she joined London-based ballet flats specialist French Sole, where she stayed for 10 years, before setting up her own brand in 2013.
She claims she uses the name Choi instead of Choo as she doesn’t want to trade off her uncle’s name. Not that she needs to. Her signature mix of high fashion styling, comfort and accessible price points has proved hugely successful and her range is stocked in many high profile stores such as Matchesfashion, The Shop at Bluebird and Fenwick of Bond Street.
The full line, however, will only be available at 18 Connaught Street, thus ensuring its future as a Choo/Choi footwear destination.
Someone somewhere is probably writing as a song about this as I type…
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