In the world of expensive and amazing shoes, Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo may have better name recognition. But Giuseppe Zanotti is the designer who's currently getting most of the attention.
His clients include Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus. He designed nine custom shoes for Cyrus' Bangerz tour and a range of eye-catchers, including blue suede heels with gold designs and Swarovski encrusted thigh-high boots, for Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter Show world tour.
Zanotti collaborated with Kanye West on a pair of $6,000 shoes featured in the rap-singer-turned-fashion-designer's first Paris runway show and recently paid tribute to West in a special capsule collection of gold sandals to mark his 20th anniversary in the shoe business. A gold feathered sandal, called "Cruel Summer," was inspired by a dinner with West.
Despite traveling in such circles, the 57-year-old Italian designer seemed surprisingly down-to-earth when I met with him a few months ago during a personal appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue in Houston. He weighed in on his famous friends and why women — and men — adore footwear.
CultureMap: Why do women love shoes so much?
Giuseppe Zanotti: I think women want to feel beautiful or more cool, which is the contemporary word. And shoes help.
First because shoes are like a remote control to touch [the] sky. With a high heel, you feel like a diva. With a sneaker you feel very casual, very cool. With a wedge or platform, you feel super-teenager. Also, if you have a red sandal, you feel full of passion. If you have leather, you feel wild and aggressive, like a panther. If you have a flat with jewels, you feel like being in San Tropez.
With the sneaker, I work with men, but it's something more unisex. With the sandal and the stiletto, my priority is to create a good connection with the woman's personality. Something strong but not vulgar. Spicy but not too much. Sweet but not too sweet. It's not an easy mission.
CM: For the Texas customer who may not as familiar with your brand, how would you describe it, and how is it different?
GZ: The Zanotti collection represents my personality. It's something funky with some music inside. It gives a woman the possibility to create an outfit with personality.
I have a collection of more than 900 shoes every season. Now women travel a lot, with the body, but sometimes with the social network or the movies. They may see Beyoncé in concert with my sneaker with the heels or on Instagram and [go online] to buy. Things have changed in 20 years so much. Fashion is more globalized than before.
But the femininity between Texas girls or Montreal girls or Beijing girls is the same. Women want to feel beautiful.
CM: What is the biggest shoe trend now?
GZ: It's a [open-toe] sandal bootie, between a boot and sandal, with a lot of rock elements, a huge buckle zipper, like a biker element.
CM: What's it like to design for Miley Cyrus?
GZ: I think she's crazy, a little bit too much for me, but I appreciate her bravery. I used to do something crazy for Britney Spears 12, 15 years ago when she was a teenager. And [I've designed for] other girls, like Gaga. She's not a calm girl at all.
But Miley Cyrus, I think it was very right for her. The artist is not a simple, boring person. They want to be like god, the best. Miley is not elegant like Beyonce, [who] is an artist pure with a voice so elegant. But she's part of the zoo. They all have different personalities, like designers.
CM: Speaking of strong personalities, what did you learn from collaborating with Kanye West?
GZ: I think there is not a talent like him. If you touch him, it's like a lion, maybe he can hit you. You need to respect his personality because he is a wild artist but with a lot of talent.
Everyone can criticize Kayne, but he gave to the system a lot of inspiration because he is a poet. He is obsessed with all the elements of life. He is sensitive and strong a real pure artist. But he is not perfect. Why? It's not easy to be perfect.
CM: Would you work with him again?
GZ: Maybe yes. I'm honest with him, and he's honest [with me]. When there are good conditions, we work. When not, we wait.
CM: He says he's a creative genius. Do you think he is?
GZ: I am not going to say. It is better to be modest in life. But around him there are a lot of things you cannot see everywhere. In this life, people are not generous. He's so generous. He's so sweet. He helps people.