This week Giuseppe Zanotti Designs and its Vicini spa parent company, announced a partnership deal with Bluebell for the exclusive distribution rights of the Giuseppe Zanotti brand in Japan.
I recently sat down with the Italian footwear and accessories designer before a luncheon in his honor at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, where we discussed everything from stilettos to his start in music as a DJ.
How did you get your start as a footwear and accessories designer?
Well I started designing shoes in the early 80’s. The shoes at the time weren’t great. They reflected the mood of the 70’s but not like the fabulous retro 70’s styles we see today which I find super cool. The shoes had a kitschy 70’s style. The young girls didn’t have the appropriate shoes for this new age. It was the beginning of a new era. The Philly sound of music was big. The time was fantastic but the shoes weren’t good, they were horrible. This was the trigger for me. There was a hole in the footwear market so I decided to do something about it. I wanted to create shoes for the new era. At the time we didn’t really have fashion shows like we have today. I mean, there were the Paris Haute Couture shows and of course Armani and Ferre, but not a lot of pret-a-porter shows. So I started as a freelancer and set out to adjust the shoes by changing the colors, changing the heels, and changing the proportions. That’s when I became a designer, but I didn’t use a pen. I used scissors to cut the toe and cut the heel. I wanted to create something pretty and beautiful.
You design your shoes, bags and jewelry like couture pieces wouldn’t you agree?
My mom was a big influence on me. She was a tailor. My mom had a lot of experience working with embroidery and silk. She worked in a little atelier in the South of France for seven years during WWII as a small girl. When I was a boy she worked in Italy and I saw a lot of women stitching and working on dresses for months and months. She told me that I needed to be very passionate and learn. I needed to learn how to be very, very light when working with women’s shoes. She told me that I needed to have fingers like a little kid. I used to cut the leather but she taught me how to mold the leather with my hands because a shoe needs to mold around a woman’s foot. She told me that I needed to make proper time for the fittings and all the details and that I needed to learn about colors and leathers. I went to work at a factory where I worked for 5 years. I learned all the secrets of a shoe factory and how shoes were made. It was very important because at the time there wasn’t a school like San Martin’s. So, I worked during the day and I was a DJ at night.
Do you see yourself expanding your collection to ready-to-wear?
I think all the time about the step to ready-to-wear but I’m afraid. It’s another universe. I just worked with Kanye West and he was obsessed with the ready-to-wear. He loved it. When I worked with him it was very different. The proportions are very different. I’m very specialized in shoes and jewels. When I started to design shoes from scratch, I imagined flat sandals with jewels on the top. I think it’s a beautiful respect of a woman’s femininity. Women wear beautiful necklaces and earrings and I wanted to design something equally as beautiful for the woman’s foot. I prefer to work around these specific accessories: flats, evening and bridal shoes.
You’ve also been known to do special request designs called “Your Dream Shoe.”
I’m a designer and I like the challenge of working directly with a customer. I worked once with a nurse who wanted a very sexy nurse’s shoe. It wasn’t easy to translate this dream into a real life sexy shoe but I did it. I like to create borderline sexy shoes. My shoes are designed for women from the age of 15 to 65. Their whole life women love to feel beautiful. They live in their shoes and I want them to feel good. So I do my best to create sexy beautiful shoes.
How do you feel about designer brand partnerships…Lanvin for H&M…Missoni for Target…Lagerfeld for Macys?
I think it’s very nice. Target, H&M and Topshop offer nice capsule collections designed by great fashion houses. They provide something very special at a great price point. I think it’s every girls dream to have a sexy shoe and beautiful clothing at an affordable price.
Would you explore the option of a brand partnership with a large retailer like H&M or Macy’s?
It’s not my brand strategy but I think it would be nice to do something for my future customer. She might not be in a position to afford a more expensive designer shoe at the moment but a shoe from a retailer like H&M might be more in her budget.