Danny Choo, The Dollmaker
The son of prominent shoe designer Jimmy Choo carves out his own legacy as a popular personality in Japan as well as being the man behind Smart Doll, makers of interactive robotic vinyl dolls.
BY Sim Wie Boon | Oct 11, 2016 | Culture
Being the son of famous shoe designer, Jimmy Choo, one would expect him to follow in his father's footsteps to join the shoe business but Danny Choo has stood on his own two feet to make a name for himself.
Apart from being the founder of Culture Japan, a popular blog showcasing his life in Japan, Danny is also the creator of Mirai Suenaga, a Japanese tourism icon and the man behind Smart Dolls, makers of interactive robotic vinyl dolls.
Eversince his first visit to Japan, the 43-year-old who was born in the UK has made up his mind that Japan is where he will spend the rest of his entire life. Upon returning to the UK, Danny worked relentlessly to go back to Japan and after successfully landing an IT position there, Danny has never looked back. We speak to him on his love of Japan, its culture and Smart Dolls.
ESQUIRE: What is it about Japan and its culture that made you fall in love with it?
DANNY CHOO: I think first thing was the content. Their games are great. And they’ve got idols who sing and dance and are very cute. It was that as well. And the Japanese drama, anime, manga and music. There’s just so much content to enjoy. Because there’s so much content, it makes it easy to learn Japanese as well.
ESQ: During your first trip to Japan, what was that one defining moment that made you go, ‘Yup, it’s Japan for me’?
DC: I think it’s when I first touched down. I remember looking out the train and saying ‘Oh my God! It’s... it's Japan.” [Laughs]. It felt like my homecoming. It really changed my life.
ESQ: Now that you’re in Japan, do you often to meet up with other Malaysians there?
DC: Yes yes. So I’ve got a shop in Japan right now. And lots of folks from Malaysia come along, and we get to chat. It’s great.
ESQ: When it comes to work, do you have an ultimate goal you’d want to achieve for Japanese culture?
DC: I do constantly think about the why are we here and what I want to do in life. I’m quite old right now, and I know I can’t do this forever. I think looking at humans and what they do, for me I have realised that I like to build something and have people enjoy what I create, whether that’s in a form of reading on my website or watching my TV show or enjoying even my products.
ESQ: The dolls that you make, what makes them so special?
DC: There are many similar products out here. Dolls have been around since ancient times. And they’ve dug up dolls from the Aztec dynasty. So dolls have been around for ages and they come in lots of different shapes and sizes. I think up till now, dolls apart from Barbie and—there’s a Japanese one called Nikachan—are mainly aimed at small children. There’s no real doll that’s aimed at everyone. That’s where my smart dolls fill this gap. I think lots of folks out there haven’t seen such a product.
ESQ: How is the market for it?
DC: Our largest market is actually America with the second being Japan. Third comes Taiwan and Malaysia is somewhere in the top ten. While the price of the dolls are high, almost as an iPhone, a lot of folks have iPhones... so yeah.
ESQ: Will you be making them in different sizes though?
DC: Well, once for April Fools, we mentioned that we would do smaller sizes and we’ve actually made prototypes of bigger ones as well. But there are no plans to mass produce them at this moment in time.
ESQ: Back to Japan, the Japanese has well been known to have this intrinsic talent to take something of other culture and recreate it in such goo way. What is it about Japan that gives them this ability?
DC: I work with lots of Japanese craftsmen and I think they get lots of self esteem to be able to achieve something that’s difficult to achieve. Now given Japan’s landmass problem (there’s lots of mountains but livable space is very small), they’ve been able to create very small things. You’ve got tiny microwaves, tiny toasters, kettles, the cars are tiny as well. It's an example of this need that pushes them to the limits to create something that’s been improved upon an existing idea basically.
ESQ: We heard you're a huge Star Wars fan, so we have to ask, what do you think about the Star Wars: The Force Awakens and also the future ones that are coming out.
DC: The last one was great. Even though it’s a remake of Episode 4, I think it was done in such a way that was very fresh and new. I studied that quite a lot, the different sounds they use, different camera angles and so on. It basically brought back lots of memories, I think that triggered lots of interest in fans, and I think it’s very well done. I’m looking forward to the new one.
ESQ: Will you ever get into the shoe business in the future?
DC: I think lots of people have requested that they’d like to see human versions of our shoes. But maybe it would be that my father can do the human versions and I’ll continue making the doll versions.
Partnering with Isetan in conjunction with the opening of Isetan The Japan Store, their new specialty concept store, Danny will be making limited editions of Smart Dolls dressed in various traditional garments to be sold exclusively in the store.
Isetan The Japan Store is a one of a kind and brand new speciality concept store based in Lot 10 which will see the Japanese retailer bringing authentic Japanese culture and products in Malaysia in an effort to introduce Japanese history, culture, technology, diversity and lifestyle designs through a carefully curated selection of brands, products and services.
The store will consist of six floors featuring products from Japan including regional brands of which over 200 of them are being introduced in the market for the first time. The store is slated to launch on October 27. Head to their website for more information.