How much can you tell about a woman from her shoes? Three fash-pack insiders throw open their wardrobes to talk us through their epic collections..
The Glam Fan
Sandra Choi, creative director, Jimmy Choo
She’s been reinventing glamour for 20 years at iconic London label Jimmy Choo, so it will come as no surprise to discover that Sandra Choi’s own shoe wardrobe is a shrine to the sexy heels that are synonymous with her brand. She learned her trade from her uncle, Mr Choo himself, and after establishing the company in 1996, she’s kept it at the top of its game ever since. And as Sandra essentially is the Jimmy Choo woman – powerful, glossy and super-cool – it makes perfect sense that she should road-test the collections herself. ‘If I think of something that’s missing from my own wardrobe, then I will probably just design something to fill that gap,’ she says. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?
How many pairs of shoes do you think you own?
‘Probably 600. I’ve been working here for a long time, so my wardrobe is kind
of my portfolio! I’m not alone, my husband is a shoe hoarder, too. We have boxes everywhere at home. When people ask me, “Why do you need so many?” I just tell them that I’m going to open my own museum one day.’
Is it tempting to keep every single pair you design?
‘I get very attached when I’ve spent hours making something perfect and, conveniently, I am the sample size, so yes it is. There’s a purpose for everything, though, like in the pre-fall collection there are all these different rich velvets, tough cages and sexy laces going on, but there’s a perfect occasion for each.’
How do you decide what to wear every morning?
‘I normally change my shoes several times a day – I start in my mummy role, where my only goal is to get to the school gate without being late. Then, when I arrive at the office, I’m me and I’ll wear my widest, most voluminous pair of trousers and I’ll want the heels to go with it. Shoes can change your state of mind like that.’
What was the first pair of shoes you ever bought?
‘When I was 12, I spent my Chinese New Year money on a pair of navy Adidas Gazelles with bright orange stripes and laces. That was 1983. Before that, I was obsessed with my white patent Mary-Janes, which I insisted on wearing with lace socks, even though the climate was sticky in Hong Kong where I grew up.’
Tell us about your most recent purchase…
‘Turquoise metallic platforms from a vintage market. They’re 70s glam rock and I found them by accident – I love rummaging at Portobello Market as much as at weird car-boot sales. You never know what you’ll find.’
Which shoes in your wardrobe have the most sentimental value?
‘I made my own wedding shoes – three pairs because, as is Chinese tradition, I had three weddings, including the registration and the big knees-up. My main pair were pleated with a chunky heel and a little platform, so I could dance all night. I couldn’t give that job to anyone else on my team – imagine what a hassle it would have been!’
What pair have you worn to death?
‘Some simple sandals, made of just rope and coloured ribbons that you tie up around your ankles. They signify holidays for me. If I was on a desert island, those are the ones I’d take with me.’
Who’s your favourite ever celebrity to wear Jimmy Choo?
‘The light-bulb moment was when Princess Diana first stepped on to the red carpet wearing our shoes in 1997. It really started everything for us – our Sex And The City era, all of the celebrity appearances. That idea of glamour and getting dressed up is the DNA that’s carried us through the last 20 years, and that’s what we’re celebrating in our anniversary collection. I hear people call their shoes ‘my Choos’ all the time and it makes me really proud that we’ve made wearing Choos into this magical experience. Our designs are special, never boring, and they’re about getting ready, going out and having fun.’
What’s your top tip for taking care of your collection?
‘Always brush your suede in the opposite direction to the pile and put empty wine bottles in long boots to make them stand. That’s a tip for someone with a normal-size shoe collection. If you own as many pairs as I do, you’ll have to drink a lot of wine!’
The Trend Fiend
Roberta Benteler, founder, Avenue 32
It’s been five years since Roberta Benteler founded designer e-boutique Avenue 32, and in that time she’s accumulated quite the shoe wardrobe. When we meet the German businesswoman at her Highbury townhouse in London, there’s a pile of hot, new-season heels waiting for a spot on her endless glossy shelves. Catnip for street-style photographers, Roberta is always immaculately turned out in the latest It-wares and, as she could so easily operate Avenue 32 on a ‘one for you, one for me’ buying basis, it’s a testament to her willpower that she hasn’t personally snapped up all of the stock herself.
How many new pairs of shoes do you buy each season?
‘It’s a really good season for shoes, so I’ve actually bought quite a few recently. I just got the last pair of these sock-like Dior booties in Europe shipped to me. I’ve pre-ordered some new Prada heels and some strappy Miu Miu flats just arrived, too. My favourites right now, though, are my Roberta low suede heels by Maryam Nassir Zadeh. They look a bit like a granny shoe, but I love them.’
Do you have a favourite brand?
‘Céline, by far. I always buy the newest version of their ankle boots – this season’s are brown with a gold heel.’
How do you organise your ever-expanding collection?
‘I don’t arrange pairs by colour or type because I think if you mix them all up then individuals stand out more. If you put all the black ones in one row, a great pair might get lost in the sameness. I moved into this house at the end of last year, so I’m still moving my collection in – there are hundreds here and hundreds more at my parents’ house in Austria.’
What rules do you live by when shopping for shoes?
‘My shoe wardrobe isn’t very colourful – I almost always go for black, nude, gold or red. Those are my colours. I always consider whether I’ll get a lot of wear out of shoes before I buy them and whether they will go with both skirts and trousers. I always try them out on a hard floor, not on carpet as it masks any fit issues.’
How has your style evolved?
‘Before I worked in fashion, I had a job in finance. I wore pinstripe suits and courts every day. Then, when I changed career, I saw fashion week, I saw street style, and I became more daring. I’d always wanted to work in this industry, but I studied finance so I would have the skills to become self-employed. I founded Avenue 32 to showcase younger designers. There wasn’t a place to shop for Christopher Kane or Jonathan Saunders six years ago when they were up-and-coming.’
What was your teenage style like?
‘I started wearing Dr Martens on my 11th birthday and at one point in my teens I had them in every colour. It started with a knee-high floral pair – I’ve still got them somewhere. I was a real tomboy.’
What’s your all-time favourite pair?
‘Shoe fashions change so much it’s hard to have a favourite for a long time. When
I was 19, I bought some gold brocade Prada heels. I thought I would love them forever, but now the shape feels dated, so I’m hanging on to them until they come back round again.’
Is there a shoe you’d never wear?
‘Birkenstocks. Half of Germany loves them, half hates them, and I grew up around people snubbing them. So I just couldn’t do it.’
The Flats fanatic
Blogger Susie Bubble
Susanna Lau is famous for her eclectic look – no fashion show front row is complete without her, resplendent in a riot of colour, her signature black fringe peeking over the top of her camera as she snaps away for the next report on her Style Bubble blog. When it comes to shoes, she’s the opposite of a dustbag-obsessed investment-heel collector.
Piled up and squished into corners, her 200-strong collection contains nary a low-key black court. For her, it’s all about flatforms, chunky brogues, colourful trainers and work-of-art shoes from cool designers like London duo Meadham Kirchhoff.
What’s your favourite-ever pair?
‘I’m always attracted to unique shoes with something different about them – they’re almost a bit “ugly” to most people. I love my Meadham Kirchhoff silver and pink pair [pictured right, on desk]. They’re from a collaboration with Nicholas Kirkwood and you couldn’t buy them now. I also love Simone Rocha shoes. I’ve got a red pair with a Perspex heel that I wear all the time.’
What’s with all the flats?
‘I broke my ankle six years ago wearing heels. Since then I haven’t been able
to wear them without a twinge, so now all my shoes are flats or chunky with low heels. I wasn’t ever a super-mad stiletto fan anyway. I’m always running around and on the go, so I need to always be comfy.’
So you’ve got 200 pairs of shoes. Does that include your trainers?
‘I sort of don’t count them actually! I see them as more utilitarian. My favourite pair of trainers would have to be my bejewelled Dior ones. I wear them a lot.’
What’s your storage situation?
‘I don’t have space to keep all my shoes in boxes. To be honest, I don’t treat my shoes that well. They get squashed, but I actually don’t mind because it shows you’ve loved them, right? I have a vintage shoe cabinet that I got on eBay. It looks like a chest of drawers but inside there are poles to hook the shoes over. Then the rest are piled up or under my bed.’
What were the first ‘designer’ shoes you ever bought?
‘A pair of very old pink Miu Miu platforms from a collaboration they did with [super-stylist] Katie Grand. I still wear them all the time. They were on sale at Selfridges for £210, which at the time was an awful lot for me – two months’ waitressing money! I’ve danced so much in them, they’ve got wine splashes on them, but I don’t care, I just pretend it’s a camouflage print…’
Which pair do you wear the most?
‘I sort of collect Salvatore Ferragamo Varas. They are a low-heeled ballet pump with a grosgrain bow – very classic. I’ve got them in black, orange, turquoise, navy and white. I would buy them on eBay when I was at uni, because the vintage ones used to be quite cheap. I wear them with jeans to dress them down.’
Which comes first – your outfit or the shoes?
‘I’m very lastminute.com when I’m getting dressed. Clothes come first, and then I can never find the right shoes to go with my outfit. But I never get in a flap or try on loads of options. Once I’ve put my clothes on, that’s it. If I can’t find the shoes I want, I’ll just put some other ones on.’
That’s a very Zen fashion attitude…
‘I only ever wear things I really love. I never think about basics, or whether something flatters my bum or whatever. I love my clothes for their own sake, and my shoes particularly. To me, every pair is special. I could never get rid of any of them.’