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Where did the passion for shoes come from? Why did you choose to be a shoemaker? – I think it was a mix of elements… I was born in San Mauro Pascoli, a small village on the Adriatic Riviera where footwear is the main industry. The smell of leather, it’s almost something you could breathe in the air, and you know how we Italians are linked to traditions… but designing shoes is so much more than traditions to me. I have always been a creative guy, and an acute observer since I was a kid… Looking at the beautiful women that I happened to meet I soon realized that their shoes did not do justice to them, they did not exalt their beauty and were not suited for the changing times we were living in. I started thinking I could do something about it. But I was still 18, too young to have the necessary skills so I began working in a shoe factory to learn the basics and soon after I started consulting for big international fashion houses. This is the beginning of my story.”
What criteria do you use when designing new shoes? – I’m obsessed with the silhouette and lightness. It all starts from a sketch and the final product must keep the same airy silhouette and lightness I put in my sketch.
I don’t really think nowadays we can talk about a single idea of style or elegance. Those concepts are so connected to self-confidence to me, now more than ever as we are finally living in an era of inclusivity. If a woman feels good “in her shoes”, if she feels empowered by what she wears, then she immediately conveys a sense of elegance and style, whatever she’s wearing.
What is the most important ingredient for the perfect shoe? – The lightness that is given by the balance of different elements. Even if they have intricate details, my shoes always have a distinctive sign: their lightness. In fact my formula consists in always paying attention to the perfect mix of the elements that form a shoe, like selecting the right embellishment or jewels on the right silhouette. This is the key! I use natural materials, rich but with a light touch. I use silk and well tanned hides and also the other components, soles and heels, are light as well as the proportions and the styles themselves.
What is the secret of your success? – Not sure I can talk about “secret of success”, but surely there are few things that I believe are key to keep my work relevant after so many years. First, I still consider shoe making as a passion, rather than a simple job. This means I always pay attention to what happens around me, I look around and I study, I keep up with the changes in society to create beautiful objects that are relevant to people. But I also think that the way you see and treat your company is so important to succeed. In 30 years, from a small family business we have evolved into a structured company, with several departments and trained managers. We do everything, from design and production, to e-commerce and CRM… Still I like to think of it as a family. Not only because my two sons are working here – after all, this is their legacy – but I also know all my employees, from managers to interns. I like to talk to them, to know their opinions. People can do great things when they are happy and feel appreciated.
Who are the other shoemakers you admire? – I have great respect for all of my colleagues; for sure Manolo is a true master.
How have women changed in the last 30 years, and how have women’s shoes changed as a result? – Well, I think that life has changed enormously for everybody in the last 30 years. It has become more complicated and hectic and shoes have adapted to respond to new needs and speed. There are no rules and no specific occasions. Sneakers can be worn from day to night and kitten heels are essential to run from your kid’s school to a really important interview and then jump into a glam cocktail. In this scenario, high heels are still a strong seduction tool but of course have been penalized in everyday life.
I think that we the creative people have to live with this sort of curse, which is our imagination, that makes us feel always unsatisfied, always on the search for the next perfect shoe. It’s not easy, but at the same time it’s what keeps you going.
What fascinates you right now and how is it feeding into your work? – I draw my inspiration from everything that surrounds me: art, different cultures, music… You know I started my career as a DJ when I was a teenager? Since the very beginning of my career as a shoemaker, I think music has had the strongest impact. I collaborated on special projects with several singers since the beginning, Kanye West, JLo, Rita Ora… most recently I launched a capsule collection with American rapper Swae Lee. But I must say that even if music is in my DNA, lately I’m fascinated by other forms of art, like painting and visual artists. For example, I have involved visual artist Joshua Vides to customize a pair of our brand-new sneakers, the Talon, for our launch event at Flannels in London, but I don’t think I will stop there. Lately I’m fascinated by the possibility to work with painters and mix their work with mine. It’s still a thought, but I see a huge potential!”
What makes ZANOTTI different from other shoe brands available today? – You should tell me, because I really don’t want to sound pretentious! [laughs] Jokes aside, in general I believe that passion and hard work always make the difference. I hope everybody can see it behind each of our creations. I say « our » because it’s not just me, behind a pair of shoes there is an amazing team of creative minds and exquisite artisans that strongly believe in what they do.
According to you, what is style today? And what is elegance? – I don’t really think nowadays we can talk about a single idea of style or elegance. Those concepts are so connected to self-confidence to me, now more than ever as we are finally living in an era of inclusivity. If a woman feels good “in her shoes”, if she feels empowered by what she wears, then she immediately conveys a sense of elegance and style, whatever she’s wearing. That’s why I always say to women: when shopping, follow your instinct, go for whatever makes you feel strong and confident and you will make the right choice!
Who is your muse? – I have more than one muse, but lately I often find myself looking at Christy Turlington, one of the ultimate ‘90s fashion supermodels. She was, and still is a goddess, with her delicate yet intriguing features, there is such grace in her movement!
When it comes to shoe trends what is your absolute NO? – I don’t believe in absolute NO, in life as in fashion. Haven’t you seen the latest shows in Milan and Paris? There is not “black or white”, right or wrong in fashion anymore. Everything needs to be put in the right context. Something that in my opinion does not absolutely work for you, it can just be perfect on another person! The only limit to me is wearability and safeness. Even in my most visionary works – see for example the super 22cm heel wedges I did for Lady Gaga for her Born this Way Ball Tour – safety is at the core, and I meticulously work with my team to ensure balance, fit and comfort, both for the structure and for the embellishments and accessories we use.
What is a must have in every woman’s wardrobe? – A single must is not enough! All can be summed up to a minimum of four shoe styles: a pair of sneakers to run around during your hectic week days or lazy weekends, then a pair of stiletto pumps or sling back, a cannot-live-without style, almost an investment: to put on from morning to evening, it’s your perfect companion for that life changing interview, or that date with the perfect guy; a pair of flat bejewelled sandals for summer, perfect for a boat trip or the golden hour at the beach, as well as for a chic dinner on a village over the sea. Finally, a pair of platform sandals, something fancy for when you want to be daring!”
Do you still love what you do? – I love it and I hate it. It’s my life. I think that we the creative people have to live with this sort of curse, which is our imagination, that makes us feel always unsatisfied, always on the search for the next perfect shoe. It’s not easy, but at the same time it’s what keeps you going.