On Dec. 3, Sandra Choi will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 2 print issue about why she is the heart and soul of Jimmy Choo.
For more than two decades, Sandra Choi has been the protagonist in one of the industry’s most powerful modern brand stories.
The Jimmy Choo creative director has adeptly navigated dramatic leadership changes, complex M&A deals and a rapidly evolving luxury landscape — all while continuing to design hit shoes season after season.
“I’m resilient and thick-skinned,” Choi joked. “What’s amazing is that I’ve seen the brand grow from a little seed. So many people know the name Jimmy Choo today. I would never have been able to do that on my own. I’m most proud of our ethos and culture. We still work like a family, even though we’re utterly corporate.”
Family has been a central theme for Choi since the beginning. Even before Jimmy Choo the brand was born in 1996, a young Choi was toiling away alongside her uncle (and the company’s namesake) in his East London studio, where he crafted bespoke shoe creations. “I was fascinated by all the scenarios when people came in with their beautiful gowns. I got a strong taste of what making a piece of fashion was like.” Choi recalled.
That experience made such an impression on the young woman that she decided to work full time instead of continuing her education — a decision she still wrestles with occasionally. “I studied for half a semester and thought the studio was too exciting. I could always go back. I would just give it a few years,” she said. “But I rolled up my sleeves and taught myself,” she said.
During the earliest days, Choi and the small team at Choo spent much of their time at the Italian factories. “I was always so excited to talk to the pattern cutter,” Choi remembered.
While she worked tirelessly behind the scenes, the label, co-founded by Choo and Tamara Mellon, quickly captured the spotlight.
The brand’s glamorous styles appealed to celebrities such as Princess Diana, who attended a Chicago gala in June 1996 wearing a purple Versace dress and matching Jimmy Choo pumps. It was the roaring ’90s, a decade that is again defining today’s hottest trends. “We talk about all those names [from that era]. Galliano is still powerful, Versace, established brands that paved the way in fashion,” Choi noted.
As more ready-to-wear names catapulted onto the scene, the accessories craze was just beginning, and Choo led the charge. “We had a lot of ambition,” Choi remembered.
While establishing its presence both in London and across the pond in New York and Los Angeles, an unexpected moment fueled incredible consumer excitement about the label — when Carrie Bradshaw loved and lost her Jimmy Choos in an early 2000s episode of “Sex and the City.” “We were still newbies. Every single person was watching that show. To have that key airtime was [incredible],” Choi said.
Almost 20 years later, the designer still relishes those big tipping points, and she’s just as passionate about her role in building the brand. “Lately, I’ve said to myself, ‘You are so lucky. You are doing a job you love.’ I get to see a shoe go from an idea to something that is real — and then see people walking around the streets in it,” she said.
These days, Choi finds herself walking (or running) around in sneakers as much as heels, reflecting the big changes both in her own life — she’s now a mom of two young girls — and across the marketplace. “Sandra knows her customer, and she is the same woman: busy, international, glamorous,” said celebrity stylist Kate Young.
With her keen eye for trends and what’s next, the creative director has unlocked fresh growth avenues for Choo, now owned by Capri Holdings Ltd. “Sandra has been a visionary designer since establishing the brand,” said John Idol, Capri’s chairman and CEO. “She is one of the greatest talents in the luxury world and is the true heart and soul of [Jimmy Choo].”
Virgil Abloh, founder and creative director of Off-White, which collaborated with Jimmy Choo in 2017, also sung her praises: “Sandra is such a special, creative mind. This speaks not only to her own professional dedication and taste level but also to her character and the kindness she emanates.”
After so many years on the job, Choi has no intention of slowing down. While sneakers continue their rise, her dressed-up designs still dominate the red carpet.
Bags are also high on Choi’s agenda, and the team this year unveiled the JC logo, the brand’s first moniker. “There’s so much more to do, so much to learn,” she said. “We are a very successful brand, but now that we have the monogram, we’re turning the page and going to the next chapter: the house of Jimmy Choo.”