There are few things fashion fans find more compelling than a new pair of shoes. The soft touch of supple leather, the clean slate of a new sole, the promise of an elongating heel – all are temptations enough to stir an idle window shopper to hand over their hard-earned cash and take home a box (or two!) complete with their new prized possessions.
And no one knows this better than Italian master craftsman and shoe designer to the stars Giuseppe Zanotti. Famous for his sky high heels with amped up glamour and statement sneakers, boots and sandals, Zanotti’s designs have maintained a firm grip on the feet of some of the most famous celebrities in the world. The brand, based in Italy, has been worn by the likes of Kim Kardashian West, Gwyneth Paltrow and Candice Swanepoel to name a few, and has amassed a global audience of over 4.5 million on Instagram alone.
Off the back of the designer’s recent presentation of his spring/summer 2020 collection at Milan Fashion Week, Zanotti chats to Vogue about growing up in the industry, differentiating his designs from the rest, and why women continue to be a an incredible source of inspiration.
Tell us about your spring/summer 2020 collection.
“The spring/summer collection is a reinterpretation of our signature codes, revisited with unexpected details that also give an unfinished effect in some cases. There are also bold graphics, innovative proportions, uncommon hardware matched with a vast array of materials, from the more traditional to the more innovative ones… femininity and elegance are a must!”
Do you have a favourite pair of shoes in the collection, and why?
“It’s hard to say, but I think that the Lilium sandal makes quite a statement. Nature in general is a source of inspiration for me and this maxi leather lily flower not only speaks for true Italian artisanship, but is also sort of a tribute to nature and magic.”
You’ve worked in the industry for so many years. Does the design process ever become easier?
“No, never! Otherwise I would get bored! The design process cannot get easier with me, as it’s in constant evolution just like the Zanotti women. When I design I always think of them: they are multifaceted; they cannot be ascribable to a unique role or to a definite label. They constantly evolve with society, so my shoes do [too], to respond to their new needs. With these premises, the design process definitely cannot stay the same!”
Where do you look for inspiration and what keeps you motivated?
“My creativity and curiosity are fundamental sources of motivation for me. I’m a creative person, I have always been and always will be hopefully! I draw my inspiration from everything that surrounds me: art, different cultures, music – it depends on the moment. I often imagine stories set in different periods of time and places (ancient Greece, the ’40s) and then I design what I see.
But the main source of inspiration is still the woman. I watch women as they live their lives: they love traveling, with body and mind, reading books, watching TV, they like to confront themselves with other women of different backgrounds. I create for them. Of course, also their body has a leading role… women’s legs and feet are so important!”
What is the most exciting part of being a shoe designer and what is the most challenging?
“‘Croce e delizia’ we say in Italian. The search for the perfect shoe is at the same time what keeps me going – and dreaming – and what troubles my entire living. As a designer, when you have your latest creation in your hands – the perfect one, just like you wanted – you immediately feel a sense of joy and confidence, but soon after you realise you’re not there yet, you need to keep searching and then it starts all over again. It’s frustrating and motivating at the same time.”
Were you always interested in shoes ever since you were a child?
“I realised I was meant to design and craft shoes when I was 18-years-old. I grew up in San Mauro Pascoli, a small village on the Adriatic Riviera where footwear is the main industry. I’ve always been an acute observer and looking at the beautiful women that I happened to meet I soon realised there was something odd: they were so beautiful but their shoes did not do justice to them; they did not exalt their beauty and were not suited for the changing times we were living in.
I started thinking I could do something about it. [I felt] almost like a sculptor that would like to change what he does not like with his own bare hands. But I was too young and did not have the necessary skills so I began working in a shoe factory to learn the basics and soon after I started consulting for big international fashion houses. And this is how it all started!”
Your shoes are intimately linked to Italian heritage. How do you define Italian style?
“The woman who buys my shoes, she is cosmopolitan; wherever she goes she looks for innovation, beauty, quality. I think these characteristics are beyond the concept of nationality.”
How do you distill big, creative ideas and communicate these in such small objects such as shoes?
“My formula consists in always paying attention to the balance of elements that form a shoe, by selecting the right embellishment or jewels on the right silhouette. Even if they have intricate details, my shoes always have a distinctive sign: their lightness. This is the key! I use light, natural materials, they are rich but with a light touch. I use silk and well-tanned hides and also the other components, soles and heels, are light as well as the proportions and the styles themselves.”
Tell us about how it feels to have your shoes worn by the biggest celebrities in the world.
“I can remember every single time an A-list celebrity wears my creations, because it always makes me feel so proud. It’s not because of their celebrity status, but it’s all about what these women represent: they are strong, independent, self-confident. Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Rita Ora… They are examples of extraordinary women who are not scared of raising their voices. They decide who, how and when to be. At the same time, they are not afraid of their femininity, of their seduction skills. They represent what a woman should be for me, so it gives me such joy when they choose to wear my creations!”
How do you hope women feel in your shoes?
“I really hope they feel empowered. Whether it be heels or flats, I want them to gain self-confidence when wearing my shoes, without renouncing [their] femininity and sensuality. With my shoes, I would like to give a woman the chance to reinvent herself every time, without making compromises. It seems strange but such a small object like a shoe can have such a great impact on us!
To women I say: when buying shoes, follow your instincts, go for whatever makes you feel strong and confident!”