Ten Meets Giuseppe Zanotti at the Launch of His New Trainers at Flannels
Giuseppe Zanotti will disarm you with his charm even before you can squeeze in a question. As we sit down, he writes my name on a paper of his notebook and starts sketching. “I have to draw, you know,” he says while tracing a pair of legs in motion. On one, it’s a pair of thigh-high aubergine-hued boots. On the other one is a scarlet red sandal. Both sky-high heels, of course. “I draw from my memories,” the designer goes on as he finishes the drawing with his signature, rips off the piece of paper and hands it to me with a big smile on his face. That’s the kind of charm I’m talking about – it’s not sweet talking or complimenting, but rather a passion for what he does that infectiously oozes out of him.
We’re sitting in the offices on the top floor of the Flannels flagship store on Oxford Street where he is launching his newest design – the Talon trainer. Inspired by old-school basketball shoes and the cult 1992 film White Men Can’t Jump, it’s a classic hi-top silhouette embellished with a thick, sculptural sole referencing the shape of an eagle’s talon. “It’s something strong, but when you touch it, it’s so light,” Zanotti explains. Despite not being a basketball fan himself (“I like flowers,” he replies when I ask him about his love of the sport), the Italian designer became a favourite in the milieu of NBA superstars which love his eccentric approach to design. “I am a very close friend of the Kardashian girls, and they introduced me to a lot of these guys,” he says, before jumping on his phone to show me photos of the likes of Lebron James, Russel Westbrook and PJ Tucker wearing his shoes, custom-made for them in large sizes. That’s another point that makes you fall in love with Zanotti – he’s proud of everything he does and is happy to share the pride with you.
Before finding popularity with sneaker freaks, Zanotti started his career in making women’s shoes back in the 1980 as a freelance designer, before launching his own eponymous house in 1994. Ever since, his name has become synonymous with high-glam footwear that often veers on jewellery, with his unapologetic use of crystals, metal and bling. One of his most recognisable designs are the Cruel Summer strappy sandals with cherub-like metallic wings in the front, which later became part of his collaboration with Kanye West. Always unafraid of a creative exchange beyond his own bounds (one of the brand’s most recent collabs was with rapper and ex-10 Men cover star Swae Lee), the Italian shoe maven worked with West on the musician’s catwalk debut in Paris, when he was designing his namesake luxury brand, pre-Yeezy. While Zanotti offered his skills in designing heels, West opened the doors to a whole new world of streetwear. “When I first started [designing trainers], my professor was Kanye West. I taught him about women’s shoes, and he taught me about the philosophy of trainers. We spent hours and hours talking about it.”
Kanye also introduced him to Joshua Vides, a contemporary artist known for his illusionary street art reminiscent of old-school comics and early pop-art, at the grand re-opening of the Giuseppe Zanotti L.A. store a few years back. “And then a year ago, I followed him on Instagram. I like his work because it’s very sensitive but also imaginative, graphic and fun,” says Zanotti of Vides who also happens to be his latest partner in design crime. The L.A.-based artist created a special edition of the Talon trainers, in his signature black & white colourway, exclusively for Flannels. The blank canvas of the stark leather trainer is painted with a hand-drawn illustration of a skeleton foot, playing into the designer’s nostalgia. “When I was a kid, I used to draw everywhere all the time – I was a disaster at school though, and was unemployed until 24-years-old,” Zanotti remembers.
Having come a long way since, he has established himself as a shoe designer known for offering his audience a good time. “When I design, the target is to leave some emotion in the product. I sketch all the time on the plane, maybe 50 or 60 drawings, but one or two are different, and have some emotion in it,” he says. With over 100 standalone stores all over the world, and even more stockists, it’s obvious there’s something pretty magical in those hands. When asked about his vision of footwear designs of tomorrow, Zanotti seems as excited as he is when talking about the nostalgic memories of his past. “You know, streetwear absolutely changed the concept of fashion and luxury. What was luxury before has now changed, a lot of it thanks to Virgil [Abloh] and his incredible storytelling and discovering another planet. I think the future of trainers is to find some new hybrid stories, a fusion of older culture and new technological findings. For example, we are developing on elements of the shoes out of maize and wheat, so the soles can then be recycled. Our mission in this universe is to create new things!”
Giuseppe Zanotti’s Talon trainers are available to shop online in selected stores, including Flannels.