Giuseppe Zanotti: Shoes with a Soul, NYC

{Written for Jamaque Paradis based on an interview at 5th Avenue, Manhattan, NY}

An aura of confidence surrounded the Italian gentleman, clad elegantly in an all black ensemble. He smiled as I walked towards him, entering the black vault-like marble room of the 18th floor of Fifth Avenue, New York. Designer shoes ranging from eccentric heel-less shoes to provocative thigh high boots surrounded us, gleaming from all sides of the room as he invited me to sit amongst his creations.

“Thank you so much for meeting with Jamaque Paradis today, Mr. Zanotti,” I began.

He adjusted his famous round retro glasses, his fitted black blazer gleaming against his dark skinny jeans. As he returned the pleasantries in his accented English, my eyes caught a glimpse of the award-winning designer’s shoes: the twin-zipper Zanotti high-top luxury sneakers. “So, Mr. Zanotti, could you tell us how you became one of the most exclusive shoe designers in the world? Did you just wake up one morning and think, “Today, I am going to make a pair of revolutionary heels?”

As his assistants began to mill around his New York showroom, Giuseppe Zanotti laughed and invited me to sit besides him. “Let me show you how it all happened,” he began.

Giuseppe Zanotti Flagship Store NYC. PC: Jamaque Paradis

I took a seat and found myself in the village of San Mauro Pascoli, Italy. The smell of Italian leather filled the air, mixing with the sound of artisans’ carefully sharpened scissors cutting fabric, as the shoemakers squinted over their handicrafts adding the finishing touches. Each artisan Italian leather shoe was a gem to behold, but as a child born into a family of shoemakers in the village San Mauro Pascoli, it was what made up the sights, smells, and sounds of Giuseppe Zanotti’s home.

“Everybody in the family talked about leather, heels, and operations like cutting and stitching. The sweet fragrance of leather is always a great memory for me,” continued Zanotti.

As he grew older, the thundering beat and flashing lights of the 1970s Italian nightclubs drew the energetic man, and soon nineteen-year-old Zanotti worked as a successful DJ. “It was nice being absorbed by the energy of Europe back in those days,” he mused, running a hand through his silver hair. “Mathematics was my enemy, I didn’t want to think about business. I lived far from Milan and even then there weren’t many shoe design schools. I taught myself designing by working by hand with artisans…understanding the differences between different kinds of fabric, leather, and embroidery. My life’s priority was in happiness, going to clubs, and soon…designing. I was a very brave artist: crazy, I didn’t believe in rules!” he laughed. “In the 70s there was a lot of fantastic music. Fashion and freedom [ruled the day].” But yet there was something amiss: “the boys and girls danced so well, the music was so cool – but their shoes? Their shoes were so horrible!” cried the designer.

zanotti shoes firewings
“Firewings” by Zanotti

“I decided that there was a void that needed to be filled,” explained Zanotti. “And that’s why I started designing. I began by creating customized shoes for my girlfriends and friends; shoes that would make them feel beautiful and sexy. I did it for free and made them myself; it was a great experience. When we would go dancing at clubs everybody around us would say, ‘Oh my god wow! Those shoes are amazing; I want ones exactly like that!’ They were very basic shoes, not yet quality products,” he added modestly, “I had just cut, stitched, and glued them together. But I could tell that they were very powerful – filled with energy. That’s when I realized that I could put my soul into creating my own designer shoes. I could give life to these objects and feel the energy vibrate when pretty girls wore them on the dance floor.”

 I turned to look at the glass shelves comprising the Zanotti shoe empire around me: with over 300,000 pairs of shoes sold each season in boutiques around the world, I could see why Giuseppe Zanotti had enough good vibes to make his smile radiate so warmly on that New York February morning in his Manhattan showroom.

“When we started, I produced about 700 pairs each season,” explained Zanotti. “Today I have extended my collection in a variety of categories across men and women’s lines.” And indeed as the industry’s Father of Luxury Sneakers, Zanotti does hold a unique niche with his Made in Italy Shark high tops and inspired Cruel stiletto line.

“You work with a lot of innovative materials,” I asked. “There were a lot of mesh wires on the heels of your Spring/Summer 2016 line. What materials would you be interested in working with in the future?”

“I like to study what worked in the past with shoes, but I feel a responsibility to look to the future,” explained Zanotti. “I began with technological materials like plexiglass, metal, iron, and just figured that tradition would somehow connect them in the future. The market constantly has new technology, new innovations. Now I am using velvet with micro lurex lights inside, along with water resistant silk, and transparent high heels.” He paused. “Perhaps I will create a sculpture on the heel.”

Amused, I ask another question, “So will we see one million Zanotti shoes sold in a collection sometime soon?”

He shakes his silver head. “No, I don’t want to produce one million, two million, three million shoes. We don’t have the human resources to make those many, and I don’t want to make those many. That’s out of control! We’ll grow slowly, maybe at a maximum of 20 percent a year.”

Eyeing a pair of gorgeous stilettos I thinking back to a Zanotti advertisement I saw the other day. “So what kind of man or woman wears Zanotti shoes these days?”

Gazing at his creations, Giuseppe Zanotti answered, “I’d like to think that our luxury shoes are real, a [part] of the moment in younger generations’ lives – in everybody’s lives. [My shoes] are not just for Red Carpets or Golden Globe Awards, they are for all of our global clientele. I’ve always wanted to cater to people’s desire for shoes,” he smiled. “I’d like to be a friend to my client. I like Red Carpets, but neither my life nor their life is [lived] on a Red Carpet.”

zanotti ss16 photoshoot final
Zanotti Spring/Summer 2016 “Rebel Angels” Campaign

Zanotti continued, “Our latest advertising campaign is an urban shoot done here in the United States [featuring] a guy and a girl. [That said,] the scene could be anywhere – we could be in Hong Kong, if you liked. Our photographer Mario Sorrenti made the colors nearly black and white. The [male] model is not perfect; he has scars and tattoos.” The [female] model is somewhere between dirty and innocent. “She is not perfect either. Each year’s campaign is better than the last,” stated Zanotti. “The previous season was so crazy with Karolina Kurkovà…it was in this beautiful palace in France.”

“If your shoes could speak for you what would they say?” I wonder.

“It’s a simple message,” said Giuseppe Zanotti, “shoes are worn everyday, but [you can] put something strong in them. Let me give you an example: everybody dances; it’s easy to listen to music. [Similarly] fashion is a direction that everybody dances to; it’s easy to bring a pair of shoes into your life. Doesn’t matter if you want to dance to punk music or rock ‘n’ roll, I can [create] shoes with spikes or shoes with biker inspired studs. Designing a shoe is like painting on a white wall…it doesn’t have to be Renoir or Picasso; it just has to be distinct. I can create something new every season” to whichever beat my clientele wants to dance their life to.”

We shook hands, concluding the interview at his showroom.

zanotti logo

As I walked to the elevator, I thought of the Zanotti signature engraved into the handmade Italian leather soles of each pair of Zanotti shoes. There’s a promise signed and sealed with centuries of shoemaking knowledge passed down from generation to generation by hard-working and passionate artisans from Giuseppe Zanotti’s hometown of San Mauro Pascoli.

I stepped out into the chilly February air onto Fifth Avenue, as the unspoken promise Zanotti makes to a client whispers through the air. It is the same promise he made to his friends – back when they were nineteen-years-old going clubbing in Italy together – that if he made you a pair of shoes you would dance to the beat your heart liked best. The promise that you would feel sexy and beautiful, knowing that you had a guarantee of perfection on your feet, steading you as you danced away the heady days and nights of your life.

*This article was originally written as a story for Jamaque Paradis’ March 2016 Issue, based on an interview done by Rosaly Escuela. 


Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

One thought

  1. Great article and a lovely story behind the passion which continues till today. 

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.


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