Jimmy Choo is a name that is synonymous with style. The shoe designer talks about working with Princess Diana and why opening his fashion academy in Mayfair is a dream come true

Words: Charlotte Pasha

Jimmy Choo needs little introduction. The Malaysian fashion designer co-founded high end shoe brand Jimmy Choo Ltd in 1996 , crafting exquisite shoes beloved by the likes of Princess Diana, before selling his stake in 2001 (his niece, Sandra Choi, continues as creative director for the brand). Synonymous with glamour, luxury and meticulous design, Jimmy Choo’s are a brand that defines a whole product.

Of course, Choo hasn’t been resting on his laurels since 2001. In 2017 he joined The Atelier, a high end dress brand with a strong focus on bridal, as creative director. And aside from fashion, Jimmy Choo has put his academia hat on with the JCA London Fashion Academy, which opened in September 2021 and where he goes by Professor Jimmy Choo.

“My family always taught me to pass down the knowledge, if you do not, the skill will slowly be gone,” he says. “This philosophy has always given me a greater sense of responsibility to give back and share what I know. The Academy has allowed me to pass down my skills to young designers. They might have an idea but someone needs to teach them the technique to get the best out of that idea, you know… Our goal with the JCA is to pass on knowledge, but also to ensure that we instil in them a business mindset.”

The Academy is based in Mayfair, the home of luxury brands and fine craftsmanship. “I learnt the technical skills from my father in Malaysia, but in London, they taught me how to sell a shoe, professionally,” Choo says. “Many people said to me, ‘if you want to make shoes, go to Italy’, but I believe the best designers come from here. London is multicultural and the strongest in creativity. Many designers have the skills to design but they do not know about business. Mayfair is the centre of London, where everything happens. And we decided it was the best place to give the learners an understanding of the market and business at the same time.”

Asking Choo to reflect back on career highlights is tricky – there are many to pick from. “Whenever Princess Diana travelled to different places, she would call me and say ‘Oh, Jimmy, can you design a range for me? I’m travelling to Japan, India… my birthday is coming up, can you design something for me?’ We shared a very fond friendship and she always trusted me with my designs. I cherish my time working closely with her.” Other highlights: “I realised that I had ‘made it’ when Vogue did an eight-page story on Jimmy Choo shoes. In recent years, seeing the success of emerging designers I've mentored feels great too, so opening the Academy is one of my biggest dreams to come true.”

He has no career regrets, he says, “except that I could have spent more time with my family when they were young. I was very busy with creating and designing shoes. I remember once I did not go home for four days!” A service to the fashion community, but a personal toll no doubt.

As for advice for budding fashion designers, Choo says, “the best advice I ever got was to learn as much as possible. Designers should be able to do everything on their own, at least have the knowledge across all sectors, in their field. From marketing to PR, to how to run a whole business and sell their designs. Everyone should keep learning, especially within the fashion industry where everything keeps evolving, changing, and moving.”

And so what is next? “Excitingly, we are expanding. A few education projects are in the pipeline in other countries as well. We hope to reach as many people as possible and bring our way of teaching as close to many as possible.” Surely, there is no better teacher than Professor Choo.