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Sole Man: An Interview With Giuseppe Zanotti

Sole Man: An Interview With Giuseppe Zanotti

Giuseppe Zanotti is the stars’ go-to designer when they need a pair of crystal-encrusted, gold hardware-embellished trainers for their sell-out world tour. His are not shoes for wallflowers. Zanotti designed the footwear for Michael Jackson’s swansong and has dressed the feet of Kanye West, Rihanna and Beyoncé – his client-list reads like a who’s who of pop. They go to Zanotti for the unique blend of Italian craftsmanship and opulent, modern design that he made his name with. At the intersection of music and fashion, his ultra-decadent footwear has a cult following all clamouring to get their hands (or feet) on the new Michael Jackson Tribute sneaker collection designed in honour of the King of Pop. Available exclusively at FLANNELS, to celebrate the launch we caught up with the luxury sneaker pioneer to talk music industry ties, breaking the rules and what it’s like to design for the world’s most fêted stars.

Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute Project high top in white leather
Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute Project high top in white leather

When did you start designing trainers?

I designed the first men’s sneaker collection in 2012, inspired by my customers’ appetite for fashion-forward, casual, luxury footwear. When I saw that Kanye West was one of the first people to wear my sneakers, I knew I was doing something right. The success of the sneaker collection was unprecedented and it soon became one of our fastest selling categories worldwide.

Your sneakers are a hip-hop favourite and you have close ties to the music industry. What role does music have in your life?

I started my career as a radio DJ and music has always played an important part in my life. I constantly immerse myself in it whether to design or to relax. Ultimately, it is music that led me to fashion as I admired the style of the artists on my LP covers. I fell in love with fashion because I loved music.

Music has always been a strong inspiration for my collections and I enjoy drawing inspiration from every genre. The styles of various artists have always fascinated me and being able to encapsulate both their style and my own is a true privilege.

Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute Project high top in white, black and silver leather
Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute Project high top in white, black and silver leather

How do you wear sneakers?

Luxury sneaker have elevated a casual staple into a fashion statement and they can be worn for most occasions. They are easy to mix with suiting and make it less serious. They can lift an understated outfit. I love experimenting with my personal style and have fun doing so. Style these days is about boundless freedom – the beauty of modern luxury is the absence of rules.

What are the most important elements of luxury sneaker design?

Luxury sneakers need to defy their functional appearance and take on a refined look with luxe materials and distinctive detailing, complementing the personality of the wearer. I make the shift from street style to a statement piece of footwear with a deliberate approach and I enjoy the transition of a sporty silhouette into an elevated style. The luxury sneaker is all about versatility, and there is almost no aesthetic that doesn’t look good with a sports shoe right now.

You’re famous for pushing the boundaries of sneaker aesthetics. What drives you to do it?

Experimenting with different materials and textures and developing new technical fabrics and finishes pushes me to innovate, to find new solutions in unexpected mixes. Whether with deliberately exaggerated proportions, unfinished looks, colour effects or distressed materials juxtaposed in no apparent order, I team up leathers and fabrics with metal or a three-dimensional embroidery to create a skilfully orchestrated fusion of ideas.

Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute project high top trainers black
Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute project high top trainers black

When you began your career, did you ever imagine you’d be designing a tribute sneaker for Michael Jackson?

I have always wanted to design for music talent, to be able to interpret their unique style through my creations and work together to showcase our passion and energy. It was a dream come true to design Michael Jackson’s Tribute sneaker.

Tell us about your memories of Michael Jackson and the custom pieces you designed for him.

I worked closely with Michael and his stylist on designs for his comeback tour in July 2009. Everything had to be perfect for the performance. The first style I made for Michael was a pitch black leather boot with jewelled buckles inspired by the video clip “Dirty Diana”. I also designed a flat gladiator sandal in soft calfskin leather with embellished straps and, finally, an ankle boot adorned with a myriad of dazzling Swarovski crystals. The latter was then auctioned at the Amfar Gala in Milan in the presence of Janet Jackson.

Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute project high top trainers black
Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute project high top trainers black

Michael Jackson is a music legend – how did you tackle paying tribute to him?

My mind travelled back in time and I imagined having to design a pair of shoes for one of his performances, and the idea just popped up in my head. I thought of a signature Giuseppe Zanotti sneaker but with straps which featured Swarovski crystals and Michael’s name engraved on the buckle. In my mind, that’s exactly how I would see him perform on stage.

What do you most admire about Michael Jackson?

His unparalleled artistic talent, he was one-of-a-kind really. He was always a step ahead, propelled into the future. And he had such an influence not only on music but also our culture and the worlds of art and fashion.

Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute project high top trainers black and white
Giuseppe Zanotti Michael Jackson Tribute project high top trainers black and white

Images: Getty, Courtesy of Giuseppe Zanotti