Boots wrapped in plastic and tulle or padded almost as thick as puffer jackets. Slinky sandals with logo-stamped grosgrain straps, reminiscent of waistband on boxer briefs. These are just some of the standout footwear designs that anchored the 37 looks at the Off-White runway show in Paris last September.

On paper, it seems that its designer Virgil Abloh seems to be pandering to the street style set and pop starlets like Rihanna and the Kardashian clan when he designed these shoes. After all, that demographic seems to be the greatest champions of his work. But scratch the surface, and this shoe outing, a collaboration with Jimmy Choo launching this month, is not all about — how shall we say it — hype.

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Never mind that Rihanna  was one of the earliest to be seen wearing the designs back in October (above). Ditto the fact that Abloh’s track record with designer sneakers have been gold. One just needs to look at the reception and waiting lists for his Low 3.0 sneakers and Nike Air Jordan Ones tie-ups to get an idea of the cachet of his footwear designs.

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The Elisabeth boots

Yet, what transpired between Jimmy Choo’s creative director Sandra Choi and Abloh on the drawing board is quite the story that would take you back to the era when shoulder pads were in vogue and Abloh was still a boy. Says the 38-year-old Abloh: “I liked the idea of Diana as a muse. The point of this collection was to tell a story that an impactful figure like her is our living version of Cinderella. Make a shoe that gives that Princess feeling. ‘The New Glass Slipper’.”

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Off-White S/S ’18 collection

Twenty years after her death, the Princess of Wales still rings a relevance to Abloh and his creative process. “She was and is still a role model and the whole premise of the Off-White collection is asking the question ‘Who’s the new woman?’,” he says.

“The fact that now, there’s a new powerful independent woman that has a style. That she can wear jeans, not have to wear a suit that was made for a man. She is an individual that you can’t classify. And I think that Princess Diana is relevant explicitly now because she was ahead of her time. Her being Princess Diana and having this variance of style choice is indicative.”

 

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The use of plastic provides that “Cinderall” glass slipper quality the designers were going for.
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Virgil Abloh and Sandra Choi met in 2016 at a Jimmy Choo party where he was spinning.

Fashion house and designer shoe label tie-ups are not unheard of in fashion. Recall how Manolo Blahnik and John Galliano had a stellar run together; one more recent examples would be Altuzarra’s partnership with shoemaking royalty Gianvito Rossi. But what truly makes this match between Off-White and Jimmy jumps out is just how diverse their DNAs are.

One one hand, you have this upstart fashion label helmed by a renegade fashion guy DJ-turn-artist-turn-fashion designer whose urban sensibility is more aligned to the Kardashian-West territory. And who can forget the public feud he had with Raf Simons, who deemed him unoriginal in a GQ Style interview once? Then there is the brand name shoe house that is a red carpet fixture with iconic designs like the Lance. Yet, for Jimmy Choo’s Choi, it could not have been a perfect match.

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Sandra Choi backstage before the Off-White S/S ’18 show.

“I’d like to think that I’m a much more open-minded person. You know what Jimmy Choo is — the glamour, the confidence, that high heel. But the story has evolved with the Jimmy Choo woman wanting and needing more choices but founded on the same principles of quality, design and confidence,” she says.

“This project has allowed us to play with our core DNA in ways that are authentic yet surprising, that provokes people to think, ‘Oh, they’re doing something different. That’s really interesting.’ And I believe in experimenting when it is built on authenticity, it brings freshness and energy to the collections.”

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Clockwise from top left: Anne pumps, Victoria ankle strap pumps, Mary pumps, and Jane sandals.

Just how interesting and different? We break it down for you here.

#1: These boots copped the ones Princess Di wore to a ski trip in Austria in 1991

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Princess Di wore a similar pair of white boots to a ski trip in 1991.

VA: From the gym, to being on the street, to being on the red carpet – they were all powerful expressions of her intrinsic style. She has this cool mix from red carpet, charity work to the ski slopes where she wore the apres ski boots in white. I have this image on my mood board, in the Alps styled with jeans.

SC: I think it’s relatable. Diana was a royal grounded in reality. She was real, not a fairytale.

#2: Irreverent shoes are a modern way to do luxury

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The Mary pumps

VA: My thing was make the bow hit the floor, like the luxurious Celine pants that drag on the floor; that’s luxury. That is the new outer edge of luxury to me. The fact that there is a tailored pair that’s made in Italy that’s not irreverent to being dragged on the floor. It’s ripped jeans. Being a millionaire and wearing holes in your jeans. This, you could only make with Jimmy Choo and you could only do the exaggeration with them. Fashion is what’s on the runway as opposed to being the commercial version that is a little bit like the runway version. I like to think that a girl could live the runway version.

SC: We’ve only agreed on how big that bow should be at the very last moment. It was very back and forth. And then obviously with Jimmy Choo, we have definitive principles but sometimes you just have to break those barriers down. That was the fun part of this collaboration. We didn’t have boundaries.

#3: Some of the designs are based on Princess Diana’s own shoe last

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This design is based on a shoe last belonging to Princess Diana.

SC: Some of the pieces are based on the original lasts that we worked on, but tweaked. This is the second time around I’ve done this so it gave me an opportunity to be experimental. The Anne (a pair of plastic-wrapped round toe pumps) is based on one of the key last that she wore. You can see it in the pictures there’s a chiseled, sharper and angular silhouette.

#4: Most of the designing happened on WhatsApp

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SC: I went to Virgil’s studio in Milan and he came to ours at our London Head Office. But the majority of the design process was all done through WhatsApp.

VA: I do it with every project. What I do is I make a group chat for everything. We collaborated using WhatsApp. The iPhone is 24/7, and every inspiration, every idea is in the group chat.

SC: It’s so instant. We have the JCOW (Jimmy Choo Off-White). The design process involved bouncing ideas off each other on our JCOW chat group.

VA: And it’s 24 hours; it changed the length of the workday. So now whatever time zone I’m in, whenever I check it, I add to the shoe design. And then, I can go on about the 30 other projects I have. But it chronicles everything from the very first inspiration and your editing of every idea. You are virtually in a design studio. You can speak to the factory, the design team, the PR team. All as if we’re in the same room.

Like this? Find the perfect jeans for your body type, the stylish folks at Laneway 2018, and these Puma sneakers are inspired by ballet.