Walk Tall - Giuseppe Zanotti Interview
Giuseppe Zanotti visits his new boutique in ifc.

“The goal is to make women feel sensual and powerful, but never vulgar.”

World-renowned shoe designer Giuseppe Zanotti visits Hong Kong to check out his renovated boutique at ifc

Surrounded by sparkly shoes – his sparkly shoes – Giuseppe Zanotti wears a neat black jacket. He has been taking pictures in his eponymous brand's renovated boutique at ifc for quite a while now, so you’d expect he’s exhausted. But when we sit down to talk about the designs, Zanotti is as vivacious and enthusiastic as ever. “Designing a collection of shoes is like writing your own story, making your own film,” he says. “Of course, some collections – like some stories – are better than others.”

Zanotti emphasises that his creations are conceptualised to celebrate women. His style – famed for blending elegant jewelled details with bold shapes that can border on the extreme – is the emblem of that vision. “The goal is to make women feel sensual and powerful, but never vulgar,” he explains. And judging by the number of women who have been choosing to wear his “statement shoes” for more than 20 years, he certainly knows how to do just that.

The brand's designs are glamorous depictions of Zanotti's unique creative process and his personal story. Growing up in San Mauro Pascoli, a rural village of around 11,000 people that’s not far from Federico Fellini’s hometown of Rimini in northern Italy, Zanotti often felt limited by the narrow-minded mentality in the provincial area. There, he says, “people are so intransigent that they don’t understand that we are not all the same, fomenting a sense of non-belonging.”

Creativity, however, often blossoms out of constraints. For Zanotti, this happened in the form of music. "You don't choose music; it's music that chooses you," he says, recalling his early days as a DJ in the 1980s. Inspired by the irreverence and energy of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, as well as Janis Joplin, Zanotti channelled his necessity to escape – and found other “aliens” like him. Together, they played music on local radio stations as a way of feeling culturally integrated.

“In the end, music didn't work out as a career, but it opened up a world for me – the world of art and creativity,” he recalls. “Conceptualising objects is an art. I became a designer because what I wanted to do was to transform things, to tell my story through my creations.” From that point, Zanotti began seeking his aesthetic ideal. His mission was to turn seemingly “ugly” items – glasses, sinks, furniture and even toilets – into creations that reflected his style.

And then came the shoes. Zanotti explains he “was electrified by the idea of designing shoes, by the challenge of creating something unique out of such a small object.” From the very beginning, he knew what he wanted his shoes to look like: different and contemporary – almost futuristic – but representative of the most sophisticated techniques of luxurious Italian shoemaking.

He worked as a freelance designer for almost 12 years before finally launching the first Giuseppe Zanotti collection; the now-iconic styles were presented in New York City in 1994. Soon after the debut, Zanotti’s bejewelled stilettos and sky-high boots were chosen by numerous global stars to uplift their outfits and went on to grace pretty much every international red carpet.

Zanotti’s creations may have debuted in a suite at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan – a decision prompted by his fear that Italy couldn’t respond as well as an international audience would – but the designer feels “profoundly” Italian. In particular, he adores the artisanal attention to detail that remains unique to the country and his native region of Emilia-Romagna, where his shoes are still designed and produced. 

The days when Zanotti used to spin records in small clubs and on local radio stations are over, but music has never left his side. As we continue our conversation about his creations, he tells me that it’s still a major inspiration – he thinks of his collections like playlists. “Women’s fashion and men’s fashion used to be very different from each other, and confined to different categories. But music has always been unisex, at least for me. Now it’s much better; even fashion is becoming unisex.” 

The designer is thrilled to see the fashion industry changing so rapidly and profoundly. The fact that consumers are much more in control of their choices by being able to mix and match luxury and high-street brands gives him the constant stimulus to create new designs that can appeal to an ever-expanding crowd. In 2012, Zanotti delighted his male fans by launching Giuseppe Zanotti Homme, which again articulated a new style and stood out with its unique approach to masculinity. The sneakers, made famous by names such as Kanye West, became a symbol of the new luxury.

While Zanotti doesn’t know what the future holds, he wants to be “multitasking and open to any type of change.” For now, he will continue to design one collection after the other, channelling the passion that, more than two decades after starting his career, continues to drive and define him. Zanotti holds up a glittery stiletto to take one last picture. “I love the shoes that I create but after I’m done designing a collection, I have to forget them,” he confesses. “I get a sort of stomach ache and I feel like changing the scenario, like starting something new. My relationship with shoes is weird.”

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