In 21 years, the luxury-footwear brand Jimmy Choo has grown from a modest London startup to a global brand that sold for $1.2 billion in July. How did it make that giant leap? It was thanks in large part to Princess Diana, Sex and the City and millions of women who fell for the shoes head over heels. Let’s retrace the steps …
Born Penang, Malaysia, 1961 into a family of shoemakers, Jimmy Choo made his first shoe aged only 11. Studying at Cordwainer’s Technical College in London, now part of the London College of Fashion, Choo worked in restaurants and as a cleaner to support himself through College.
Graduating in 1983, Choo set up a handmade shoe business three years later in Hackney, East London.
In 1986 Jimmy Choo, a Malaysian-born cobbler, opens a made-to-order shoe boutique in London’s East End for private clients, including Princess Diana.
The quality and craftsmanship of his designs won him the attention of British Vogue, who featured Choo’s shoes in an unprecedented four-spread feature in 1988.
With a £150,000 loan (or $365,000 today) from her father, former British Vogue accessories editor Tamara Mellon and Choo launch Jimmy Choo Ltd.
In the late 1990s the television programme ‘Sex and the City’ helped transform the business into iconic status. Featuring heavily in the programmes, the Jimmy Choo shoe became a status in popular culture. The huge success of the brand led to a menswear collection which launched in 1999. Jimmy Choo opens its first boutique on London’s Motcomb Street. That same year, Diana is photographed on the red carpet wearing Jimmy Choo slingbacks. In 1998, the first U.S. store opens in New York, where the shoes start at about $300 a pair.
Going Out On His Own
By the turn of the century, the Choo name was a global brand, with high-end retail clients that included Harrods and Saks Fifth Avenue carrying Choo footwear. The Choo brand had also expanded to handbags and other accessories.
But in the background, all was not well. Choo and Mellon were at odds about the direction of the company. In what would become one of the more fascinating rifts in the fashion industry, Choo didn’t think bigger was better. He questioned the quality of the shoes the company was making, and seemed to long for the days when he was back at his shop in Hackney, making a small number of pieces of footwear for specific clients.
In 2001, Choo sold his half of the company to Robert Bensoussan of Equinox Luxury Holdings for $30 million.
Today, Choo has returned to his roots at a small shop he opened in London, which serves as the headquarters for the exclusive Jimmy Choo Couture line. It’s here that Choo crafts a small number of pairs of shoes each week and trains a select group of students on how to make high-end footwear.
In 2004 after launching a handbag line, Jimmy Choo, which now has 23 stores, is sold to another PE shop, Lion Capital, for £101 million (about $190 million today). Mellon remains a minority owner.
2011 – 2014 Having expanded into perfume and eyewear, Jimmy Choo is sold again—to the German luxury-goods firm Labelux for $850 million. In November, Mellon exits the company. With 177 stores in 34 countries, Jimmy Choo becomes the first luxury footwear brand to go public. About 25% of the company is sold in a London IPO at 140 pence, or $2.24, giving it a market capitalization of about $870 million.
In July 2017, Jimmy Choo is acquired by Michael Kors for $1.2 billion. Sandra Choi plans to stay with the company, whose shoes (which range from $425 to $4,595) are now a favorite of Princess Diana’s daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton.