Last month I was lucky enough to interview Jimmy Choo for the back page of Sunday Life Magazine. Yes, that’s right. The Mr Choo behind the famous Jimmy Choo shoe empire. Though the line was bad, there was one thing that was crystal clear throughout our conversation: Jimmy’s incredible heart.
Some backstory to his extraordinary tale. Choo was raised in London and learned the craft of cobbling from his Chinese mother and father. From his East End studio, he connected with British socialite and entrepreneur Tamara Mellon and together they established J. Choo Limited – a luxury label adored by movie stars (Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta Jones), pop queens (Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry) and royals (Princess Diana, The Duchess of Cambridge) alike.
But in 2001, Choo walked away from the ready-to-wear business – leaving his name and hundreds of millions behind. The company was bought by current owners Labelux in 2011 and Mellon departed shortly after, revealing “Choo didn’t design a single shoe”.
“To top it off, we’d won a British Fashion Council Award, which Jimmy insisted on accepting on our behalf, even though his design contribution had been nil,” she told the Daily Mail in October 2013.
Pretty harsh words.
Needless to say, I was fascinated by the story – and eager to hear Choo’s side. But what I heard, was very different from what I expected.
Story below and featured on Sydney Morning Herald website – What I Know About Women – Jimmy Choo.
What I Know About Women
Jimmy Choo, shoemaker, 61, married
My mother was a very kind lady. She was very down to earth and knew how to get through any issue. She had proper Chinese manners, too, and she taught me all those things as well.
I was born in Malaysia, but I grew up in England. My family moved there when I was young. I remember one day when I was four years old and very ill. My mother carried me out to one of the English markets and bought me a green hat that I wanted. That kind of love stayed in my mind.
I learned how to make shoes from my father – and from my mother too. In the old days they were all working together: my dad designing a shoe and my mum helping with the pattern. She had to make shoes and do all the cooking as well – it’s wasn’t easy!
My first shoe I made for my mum. I was 11 years old. These days children are very lucky. They have computers and phones. I had a black and white TV and after school I would finish my homework and watch my father and mother cut a shoe and stitch it together.
In Chinese culture, when you learn you have to be patient. Skills are not passed on straight away. It took days and days and months and months for me to learn. I made many, many pairs of shoes for my mum. She would always say, “they’re great!” even though I think she had one hundred shoes just like it.
Famous clients like Elle Macpherson and Nicole Kidman have always come to me. For every shoe, the process is very personal. It’s like making a dress. We have fittings and they would tell me whether they were comfortable or not. I learned from them that discretion is very important. You have to work very hard, you have to be honest and then they trust you. They are all just like you and me, working hard. They never say, “I don’t like this, I don’t like that”.
The one client who stood out was Lady Diana. She had all the designers making things for her, yet she had her eye on me. She was enchanted.
We did spend some time together and she was always very kind, always respectful to her mum and dad. When I would visit her, she would walk me to my car. Imagine – the princess walking me back to my car! I felt very proud and very privileged to have that relationship.
I met my wife in London during my study at technical college. She’s a very hard working lady. At the beginning, I would spend 15 hour days in the workshop for three to four days, and yet she would come and help me and cook for me and my staff. She never complained. You have to respect that. Now I give her 100 per cent of my love and understanding.
My daughter is 22. She’s a good girl, she knows how to care for her parents and she has a great future. Last year when it was my birthday, she was supposed to be in Taiwan but that afternoon she walked into my apartment and said “Daddy, I’m here”. It was such a surprise! I was crying inside my heart because when she was young I didn’t have enough time for her. Now she’s older we share more time and I treat her like my darling.
Business is a skill you keep on learning. I don’t have any regrets, I don’t have any pain in my heart. I don’t want to talk bad about people. One of the most important things I’ve learned from women in business is we must forgive and forget. I never want to be angry with anyone.
When someone says something bad about you, you have to understand their history. Look at their background, look at family and you can understand the person, but at the end of the day you have let it go, let it go.
In the end, there is always someone better than you. So you must always learn from people, and that way they give you more and more. One of the things I love most today is to be a teacher. That way I get to talk to students and share my experience all across Malaysia and the UK.
If there’s one woman who’s influenced me more than any other, it’s my mum. I still regret that I didn’t spend more time with her. She saw me with the Queen and with high politicians’ wives and she saw that I received so many awards. She would say, “I only have one son, but my son has made me very proud”. I think men should know that their mothers are very important. Wherever you are, you must think about your mum.
Dato Professor Jimmy Choo is an ambassador for Tourism Malaysia. On the 2 – 6th October 2014, you are invited to join the Eastern & Oriental Tiger Express for a five-star journey from Singapore through Malaysia and Thailand in aid of charity initiative, Save Wild Tigers. Tickets are limited. For further details visit www.easternandorientalexpress.com/tiger