His shoes have been worn by everyone from Diana, Princess of Wales, to Beyoncé, but legendary designer Jimmy Choo said his greatest achievement is setting up his own fashion school.
Professor Choo – as he’s known to his students – set up the JCA London Fashion Academy in September 2021, calling it “my dream”.
“I feel very proud – I know my dream has come true,” he told the PA news agency ahead of the masters students presenting their final collections.
“My father said to me: whatever you learn, put it back to the industry. So we are lucky we have the JCA – I can put all my spirit and my knowledge, [and] give back to the students.”
Before becoming a professor, Choo, 74, made his name with glamorous high-fashion footwear.
After moving from his native Malaysia to study in the UK, he set up his eponymous brand in 1996 – designing heels for Diana, as well as being worn on red carpets all over the world and getting a nod in an episode of Sex And The City (when Sarah Jessica Parker’s fashion-obsessed character Carrie Bradshaw famously laments: “I lost my Choo!”)
He’s delighted with the JCA Academy, but in a nod to his glittering career, Choo added: “I’ve had a lot of proud moments, from personally designing shoes for Princess Diana and other incredible VIPs [to] seeing emerging designers that I’ve mentored succeeding in their careers.”
And while he’s an industry veteran, Choo said he’s still constantly learning.
“The best piece of advice I received was to learn as much as possible,” he said – which is particularly important in the fashion industry where “everything changes”.
He said: “The material, design, machinery, fabric – everything changes. So you have to adapt. Whatever you do, you must learn something.”
Sustainability is one of the biggest areas of change in the fashion industry.
“Now people [are] talking about sustainability – how to help the environment and that kind of thing,” Choo explained.
“Everyone has to think about the future of the earth – if you spend so much and waste so many things, nature will be in trouble and so will we.”
He looks to his students for inspiration, who “never fail to amaze me”.
“Sophie Park was one of our footwear designers who made shoes out of plant-based materials such as cacti, pineapple and leaves. Olivia Black and Polly McKevitt both have collections made out of deadstock and materials that would have otherwise been discarded.”
Choo enjoys working with young people because “they will listen to you”, and added: “They’re also very down to earth, willing to learn – that’s very important.”
In turn, Choo emphasises to his students the importance of asking questions.
“You have to ask why,” he said, giving the example of making a suit that doesn’t fit right and questioning why you can’t button the jacket up.
“Because you’ve cut the pattern wrong, so your button cannot close. [With] only one inch, you made the whole thing difficult.
The key to success, according to Choo, is collaboration – something which isn’t necessarily the norm in the highly competitive fashion industry.
At JCA, he said he never wants anyone to think they’re “better than you, [or] you’re better than me”, he said.
“If you’re better than anyone we should share their ideas and the whole thing benefits. We cannot be selfish.”
It’s something he suggests is missing from the wider fashion industry.
“Of course it’s important to own your ideas, but creativity flourishes when you can bounce ideas off other people. I think it’s important to have a network of people that you can speak openly with in the interest of improving and sparking creativity.”
Among all the good advice propelling Choo’s career to the stratosphere, what was the worst he ever got? “Maybe it’s when someone told me I should retire.”