The celebrated Italian shoe designer is singing a new
tune for summer with a stunning new collection.
GIUSEPPE Zanotti has a new “album” out, with shades of Rockabilly and 1960s music, reminiscent of the Elvis Presley era.
No, the Italian luxury shoe designer hasn’t changed careers midstream, although in a former life, he truly was a musician.
“I was a loser musician/DJ in the 70s and 80s. The fact that I wasn’t born in Milan or Rome where it was all happening didn’t help. It was impossible to cut it as a musician so I went into shoes instead,” said Zanotti, who’s from the small Italian village of San Mauro Pascoli, only half in jest.
We were chatting on the balcony of his office/showroom, having morning coffee and pastries, just hours before his show that afternoon in conjunction with Milan Fashion Week in September. For someone who had been rushing all week, or perhaps more appropriately, all year, for this momentous occasion, Zanotti hardly seemed flustered.
“I worked five months ahead, from April 2013, for a collection of 1,000 shoes for summer 2014. Now, I’ve already started for winter 2014!”
He looked much younger than I had imagined, and was every bit the eccentric and intrepid shoe maestro which his public image made him out to be. Flamboyant, a touch dramatic ... one cannot help but be swept away by Zanotti’s effusive charm.
Amusingly, he was nonplussed that his colleague, good friend and PR director, Emmanuel, preferred his own pair of leather shoes (which he was wearing) to a fashionable pair of slip-ons which Zanotti had just designed.
Much like his music, his shoes have also returned to his design roots in the wake of his 20th anniversary, depicting animals and crocodiles.
“I started with jewels, crocodiles, snakes and put all these in my sandals. Now, I’ve changed and it’s called ‘Crock Rock’, reflecting that women are beautiful, but can also be dangerous!” he added.
His new “compilation” for Spring/Summer 2014 has 18 different songs and each one tells a different story.
“The first story is inspired by music: there’s Roppongi-Rockabilly – ‘very US’ (sic), very 60s, the days of Elton John and Elvis Presley. The collection has Japanese details (seen in the platform heels and fabric), Mayan culture with a punk vision and touches of rock ‘n’ roll.
“You can see this from the colour of the jewels on the sandals, and the rock ‘n’ roll details in the heels and the black leather. I like to play with contrast,” quipped Zanotti, 56.
By that, he means a delicate balance between Manga and Johnny Cash – a crazy mix of opposites – which amazingly comes together in a unique outflow of creative, over-the-top and super-sharp heels, biker raw leather in scarred design, metallic zips paired with tassels and bandaged wedges with cashmere patterns. Two words which you never thought should go together but perfectly describes his Roppongi-Rockabilly vein: organised chaos.
He wasn’t kidding when he mentioned animals and Mayan culture as you get gorgeous shoes adorned with golden Aztec faces, miniature detailed crocodiles and scorpions, embellishments with turquoise gems, crystal jewels and intricate beadwork, chains and studs.
The concept of “punk sexy” is further translated from killer heels to flamboyant flats, be they covered-up shoes, boots or unique flatforms.
“This season, the classic story of the pump is reworked in contemporary lines, in which I played from the idea of past memories and launched into the future. There are pastels and touches of neon, and it can be for the 18- to 80-year-old woman.”
Not usually one for flats, it’s hard to resist sensual open-toe mules with gentle silhouettes, much like the curves of a woman’s body, alongside elegant sandals that have never looked more divine being so close to the ground. He defines (the range) Wild Soul as “a wild spirit pierced by rock” and the biggest show-stealer is the Nirvana sandal which has a gold serpentine wrapped around the ankle.
Spring/Summer 2014 is also about his biker impression fused with military combat boots. Thanks to Zanotti’s masterful stroke of genius, shoes with a funky masculine attitude are overtly hot, with a capital H, when worn by a woman. This image, he said, is “super sexy” (think Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider) and one of his favourite “songs”.
Ahead of his time, Zanotti was one of the first designers to introduce sneakers to women. Thing is, they looked so good that they had the guys clamouring for them as well.
Before this, he only had about 20 sneaker designs, but this season he has come up with over a hundred designs for men and another hundred for women. His sneakers have elements of biker, combat rock and punk all rolled into one. At the Fashion Week showing, adoring fans were overheard saying that his sneakers have never looked more masculine.
Incidentally, the Giuseppe Zanottie Homme boutique with a “sneaker lifestyle” reopened in October, together with an array of bags and accessories just for him, complemented by architect Gianluca Bonini’s store design.
The rest of summer serves up a mix of “salads and fruits”: a balance of polka dots, glitter and zebra/leopard prints.
The other story is that of his 20th anniversary in the shoe business.
“I’m too old to translate my memories into shoes (otherwise they would have to be in a museum)! I need to take (off) from a point of departure. I need new music. (As a shoemaker) I was self-taught; I was a disaster in school.”
Which is awfully self-deprecative, considering how Zanotti has been nominated Designer of the Year three times and hailed as a rockstar by Hollywood’s elite like Beyonce, Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue and Jennifer Lopez, no less.
After two decades, he continues to shock and amaze with his modern interpretations of classic designs and shoe construction. He relies largely on intuition and never bothers with mass market demands, because “I like change. We all need a new charge of energy.” Which explains how he teamed up with Kanye West.
“I want to work with people, not brands, which is why I’ve chosen Kanye. He has good taste, be it for food or fashion, and he’s a good friend. He’s not just about music as 75% of him is really about art. There are a few distinctive (shoes) pieces, but it’s not a huge collection,” said Zanotti, downplaying his celebrated collaboration with the musician that’s been hugely popular.
Given the extremism seen in his designs, who exactly is the Zanotti woman then?
“She is a work-in-progress, she needs something new all the time as she’s constantly growing, being a better version of herself. Sexy, in a good way, of course, never vulgar, and she’s proud of who she is.”
If I could walk tall in a stunning pair of Zanotti’s this summer, I would be darn proud too.