Jimmy Choo creative director Sandra Choi is inspired by London walks
Tucked away behind a row of Victorian villas near Little Venice in Maida Vale, London, is Clifton Nurseries, a pretty urban oasis filled with trees, topiary, vines, and rare and familiar plants. It’s one of the city’s best kept secrets.
Sandra Choi, Jimmy Choo’s creative director, only discovered this garden nursery a year ago, when the luxury shoe brand hosted a dinner there. It transpires Choi has green fingers, exercised in her tiny garden plot across the Thames in Battersea, and her cottage (with its vast oak arboretum) near Bath.
“Nature doesn’t get it wrong. Just look at the leaves of the Virginia creeper and the way they are changing colour. I can easily make a colour palette out of everything I see around me,” Choi says as she wanders among the foliage and pot plants.
“I love the power nature has to renew itself, and at the same time create plants that are so beautiful and elegant.”
Choi is giving a guided tour around her favourite spots in London, showing us the areas that inspire her collections and, in particular, Choo.08, which launched earlier this season and will form a core aesthetic of urban footwear within the Jimmy Choo collection.
The brand is known for its sexy red carpet shoes, the crystals and glamour, but not for trainers and biker boots.
Heading towards her next destination, Alfie’s Antique Market in Marylebone, she explains the reasoning behind the Choo.08 collection. “Nobody knew that we had been doing trainers [since 2009] and biker boots for years,” she says.
Except, it seems, the mothers that Choi sees wearing the Choo biker boots on the school run: “That was quite a proud moment,” she adds.
The Choo.08 collection – its name reflects that the design studio is positioned on the longitude of -0.08 degrees – is influenced by Choi’s favourite things about London.
“It is about being London, being creative, being a bit more daring, but still embodying the DNA of Jimmy Choo, its glamour, fun and sexiness,” she says.
These are no ordinary urban trainers or biker boots. There’s rabbit-fur lining in the biker boots, slip-on skater shoes with matte black python or antique brushed gold finish, and printed smoking slippers. The biker boots remain robust, but have snakeskin inserts, while handbags are slouchy but in luxurious suede. It is utilitarian, but with glamour.
Continuing our tour, Choi explains how Alfie’s market is an Aladdin’s cave of vintage fashion and antique furniture that she loves to rummage through at weekends with her family.
“This is the fun part of my work, the research. I look at the colours, silhouettes of vintage dresses, the details of an antique lamp or chair. I like to study the details and the techniques they used to make them.”
Choi jots down notes on her iPhone or in a small notebook she keeps in her handbag. Explaining the design process, she says, “You don’t lock me away for a week to design a collection. It is an accumulation of ideas.”
She spends hours browsing in the bookshop at the next location, the Serpentine Gallery. “I go there to feed my mind, then I take the children [she has two] around the installation outside or into the gallery. The last exhibition I saw there was Yoko Ono’s,” she says. The final stop on her itinerary is the Victorian-built Albert Bridge, “because it reminds me of home. I cross it each day. Everyone knows Tower Bridge, but nobody talks about London’s other bridges and Albert Bridge is the prettiest“.
When she returned to Britain – she was born on the Isle of Wight, but grew up in Hong Kong – Choi says the first thing she learned about was the Victorians “and so the whole Victorian era is tied into the things that I have been associated with in my life”.
Jimmy Choo, which has just listed on the London stock exchange (at 18 years old, it’s the third and youngest luxury brand to be listed after Burberry and Mulberry, Choi says), is firmly rooted in London.
“I think we express within the Choo.08 aesthetic that certain London attitude,” says Choi.