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The Italian master tells Debonair about the thrills and challenges of creating footwear that stands out
Eduan R. Maggo
Inventive. Refined. Cutting-edge. These words are often bandied around callously, especially in fashion circles. But one man has earned the right to own each one of them, individually and as a collective description: Giuseppe Zanotti.
Hailing from San Mauro Pascoli in a region famed for its long-established shoe manufacturing tradition, it’s as if he were born to make shoes.
Yet Zanotti goes beyond merely crafting shoes in the way they’ve been made for centuries. He marries this heritage with artistic sensibilities that speak to his former career as a DJ. The result: footwear that reference the past but with a distinct modern flair.
Take the hot-pink sneakers that acted as a curtain raiser to the Autumn/Winter 2017 collection. The highlight of the Backstage capsule collection, it draws on the vibrant pre-show magic of a music concert, bringing a contemporary street-style vibe to the glamour that makes Zanotti a red carpet favourite. At the launch of his SS18 collection, which conjures up the creative atmosphere of the ’90s and its instinctive experimentation, the Italian master tells Debonair about his craft.
You’ve been quoted saying you’ve always been obsessed with shoes. What is it about footwear that appeals to you, and how (if at all) has that obsession changed over the years?
The process of shoe design has always sparked an innate and instinctive passion for me, even though it is hard to explain why. I see the foot like a woman’s neck; and just like the neck, I enjoy embellishing it. My obsession for shoes will never change.
You’re known for combining the classic and the flamboyant, especially in your women’s shoes. How do you go about finding the balance between the two?
Shoes need to have a great sense of proportions and lightness and let the woman feel confident and sensual at the same time. Therefore, when I design, I always think about different ways to combine these two balances: when a shoe has them both, then that shoe is perfect to me.
You’re oft lauded for your innovative creations. How much of what you do is art and how much craft, or are there other elements to it?
Both are important elements. Instinct and inspiration are the core bases that lead to new discoveries. There have always been and will always be new challenges, new technologies that bring you to encourage your creative side and your willingness to employ your energy in something new and innovative. Technique instead is fundamental; it is what has allowed me to start this job. If I haven’t had matured a consistent expertise at the time being, I would have never had the chance to realise myself in this field.
It’s almost 25 years since you launched your eponymous label, but almost three decades after you started making your own shoes. With the resolve you showed at the beginning to do your own thing, is this where you expected to be now?
I have never liked regrets, so I spent my time pursuing what really gave me satisfaction. When this is your philosophy, you result in always being exactly where you want to be.
From a creator’s perspective, how has the landscape changed for you over the years?
My design gradually evolves in a spontaneous way. It is just like adding a new chapter to the book you are writing every season, a continuous update of your work. Compared to the beginning, the landscape is for sure way wider now: the product offering in the global market has definitely expanded. There are more categories, a myriad of heels and shapes through which express yourself and everything is just more articulate. There is a specific study for daily proposals and evening outfits, which are all different from one another. There is a new focus on men’s collections, and even on kids’. Let’s says there is a bigger scope now.
It took you about a decade to go from stilettos to sneakers and then to men’s footwear. What prompted this expansion, and how different is it bringing your aesthetic to men’s shoes?
I’ve sort of been pushed by a couple of friends. Kanye West on one hand helped me sweep away the prejudices I had towards the whole world of sneakers. I believed that world was all about a professional or technical product, and hard to connect to the world of luxury. But that was just my blindness, and somehow he helped me to open my eyes, widen my mind and understand the importance of creating a sneaker that somehow carried my DNA. Then, I had also decided it was time to challenge myself again and launch my men’s line as well, and here I am!
The highly technical nature of some of your women’s collections have caused you headaches in the past — has there been a similar experience in the menswear department?
Men’s feet are bigger! I’ve found that men are pickier, more difficult to satisfy, and this is a great challenge. But by reinventing classic contents, you can achieve surprising results.
Which of your shoes for men stands out for you as a personal highlight?
I personally use sneakers during the day and for casual outfits, while I usually wear black suede or leather simple loafers or moccasins for evening occasions.
You’ve taken to high-profile collaborations like with Zayn Malik and Jennifer Lopez. What do these celebrities bring to your brand, and is it difficult adding another name to your signature?
Celebrities have always been extremely important to me and I am very grateful and happy when I see my creations on the greatest in the world. Sometimes it happens that the perfect vibes and occasion give room to start a collaboration, just like it happened with Zayn and Jennifer. I love when talents and creative minds get together to create something new.
Which artist, musician or designer, living or dead, would you list as a dream collaboration and why?
I do not really have a specific person in my mind; it always is a matter of good vibes for me. But it really makes me proud when they wear my creations; it shows that I am going in the right direction.
Has a slowing luxury market impacted how you approach your creations?
I envisage challenges. The fashion industry landscape in Italy has become increasingly competitive in recent years and this inspires me to reinvent myself continuously to be relevant and to stay on trend. In economic terms, I think I should wish for my brand to grow globally to the level of many other major players in the world of luxury. I suppose that for this to occur it would need a strong presence on every high-end retail point around the globe. I should say, however, on a purely personal level, it would be enough for me to know that my designs have the power to speak to my clients; that in purchasing my shoes they are fulfilling their desires and in wearing my shoes they may instantly feel fabulous.
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