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Life beyond style

In this Highsnobiety op-ed, Lorena Cupcake explores Nicki Minaj’s feud with shoe designer Giuseppe Zanotti and explains why we should have Nicki’s back in this case.

Nicki Minaj has never been shy about calling out anti-blackness or urging women to advocate for themselves in an unfair work force. She recently mobilized her army of barbz to get #GiuseppeWhatsGood trending worldwide as she unleashed a series of tweets calling out Italian shoe designer Giuseppe Zanotti for using her as inspiration – and profiting off her image and promotion – while refusing her requests at collaboration.

The story begins years ago when the the Trinidadian queen of intergalactic dance-pop first met Italian shoe designer Giuseppe Zanotti. The pair were mutual fans of each other’s work, with Minaj namedropping his shoes in verses like her infamous feature on Kanye West’s “Monster,” and, in turn, Zanotti telling her that she had inspired him to create a sneaker in her honor.

Giuseppe Zanotti’s eponymous brand recently tapped stars of the silver screen and teen scream magazines alike for collaborations, creating an elegant luxury line of red carpet-worthy heels for actress Jennifer Lopez and a line of boots and sneakers festooned with “Giuseppe for Zayn” nameplates for former One Direction member Zayn Malik.

“When he gave other artists capsule collections, my agency reached out and was told they’re not taking our call,” Minaj explained on Twitter. She then pointed out that if you search his site for “Nicki,”  you’ll find rows upon rows of sneakers, sporting various iterations of zippers and buckles, in materials like black crocodile embossed leather and a pale rose taupe.

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Zanotti is no stranger to drawing inspiration from the hip-hop world, sketching watercolors of fantastical footwear while dreaming of his famous friends and fans. He created both feminine and masculine interpretations of the compilation album Cruel Summer off Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, as well as a sort of marshmallow Red October inspired by Kid Cudi.

However, this wasn’t the case of just one sneaker. As Nicki points out, “Zanotti spoke to me on the first sneaker. But 23 pairs of sneakers later & u still don’t wanna break bread?!?!” Representatives of Zanotti declined to comment to Highsnobiety on the issue.

A name is not only a name when it carries the lucrative promise of artist earnings: dilution and confusion are both valid concerns for artists fielding competing claims to the name written in lights above their stage.

Kylie Jenner, who became the second-richest Kardashian-Jenner in part due to her $29 lip kits sold under Kylie Cosmetics℠, has been met with resistance from the The U.S. Patent Office as Kylie Jenner, Inc attempts to trademark every incarnation of her name.

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Most famously, she became embroiled in a legal battle with Kylie Minogue during a dispute over the trademark “Kylie.” Though it was later withdrawn, the Australian pop singer filed an opposition that pointed out that her own music, acting and activism were internationally renowned since before Jenner was a glimmer in her mother Kris’ calculating, entrepreneurial eye.

The situations aren’t directly comparable, since Zanotti has not sought to register Nicki™ or to prevent Minaj from use of her own name. However, there is arguably a case that he is creating confusion by implying a relationship with the singer, and invoking her image without seeking any licensing agreement.

In fact, much of the Barbz fanbase was shocked to hear the line was unauthorized, with Minaj retweeting one fan who had been planning to have her sugar daddy fund some purchases from the line before she heard the news: “they gotta pay bae so Issa No from me.”

The Zanotti camp’s refusal to engage with Minaj on the same level that the brand had collaborated with other stars of similar stature is about more than who gets the official pinkprint on their product. Minaj rightfully pointed out that it was disrespectful  to tell her to her face that she was good enough to inspire his sneakers, then pass on the message through intermediaries that she was not worth the time for a meeting.

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Black creatives drive innovations throughout every time period, in every sphere of culture and across a worldwide diaspora. In the United States, the contributions of African Americans have shaped everything from what music we put on in the morning, what clothing we decide to wear, what we then cook up for breakfast – you get the idea.

For as long as African Americans have been creating culture here in this country, their work has been taken from them, whether through overt means (a direct line from slavery to the current incarceration system) or more covert and insidious patterns of the denial of authorship and opportunities (which you can read more about here and in the link above).

We have to ask ourselves: by tapping two lighter skinned people of color to collaborate with, and to refuse to even speak to Minaj, is Giuseppe Zanotti playing out the same story we’ve seen so many times before, where the creative work of black women is taken from them with no cut of the cake?

Nicki Minaj is a driven businesswoman with a long history of modeling for and endorsing various products: perfumes sold in bottles shaped like a small bust in her image, moscato blended with fruit juices and a Kmart collection full of hot pink spandex and galaxy print. If Zanotti’s company wanted her permission to sell 23 different sneakers inspired by her, that is one of the services she offers; he certainly knew where to find her. Using her name and associating himself with her image without asking her is, in this author’s opinion, theft.

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Thankfully, Minaj has a few ideas on how Giuseppe Zanotti can repay the debt owed. After joking that she wanted to fight him in the boxing ring after Chris Brown and Soulja Boy’s upcoming fight, she offered a much more peaceful solution to the messy issue.

“I’d like them to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s hospital on my behalf,” she tweeted, and then went on to promise: “I’ll match whatever you give to #StJudesChildrensHospital up to half a million dollars.”

The ninja harajuku barbie always has her mind on her money, and she’s brave enough to tell her adversaries to #RunMeMyCHECK publicly. However, her willingness to forgo any potential payment while offering up her own funds shows that it’s always been about respect, not just a potential payday.

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.

Speaking of women and sneakers, why do women’s sneaker options suck so much?

  • Lead image: giuseppezanottidesign.com / Christopher Polk
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