Giuseppe Zanotti's baroque, luxe approach to sneaker design is as loved as it is hated. We caught up with the Italian-born designer and picked his brains on what influences his ostentatious style, the state of the sneaker industry and working with Kanye West.

Born in San Mauro Pascoli, Giuseppe Zanotti has made a name for himself over the past 20 years as one of the world's most ostentatious and divisive footwear designers. Working as a DJ during the '80s, Zanotti began his fashion career around the same time, working with renowned maisons like Dior, Missoni, Valentino, Roberto Cavalli, Thierry Mugler and Gianfranco Ferré. Following three Designer of the Year nominations by Fairchild and winner of the "Prix d'Excellence de la Mode" for Best Footwear Collection by Marie Claire International in 2010, it looks like the Italian designer is just now hitting his stride. We caught up with Zanotti to learn more about his career, his thoughts on the burgeoning sneaker industry and what it was like to work with Kanye West. Check it out below.

What are the differences in designing footwear for men and for women? Do you approach them differently?

When I have an inspiration and I create a shoe it does not have a sex; it’s just a beautiful idea. Androgyny has been the fil rouge of my latest collections. A biker boot, for instance, is both masculine and modern, but still sexy. Women are so seductive in men’s accessories and I find it so cool when a man wears a pair of embellished sneakers or loafers. I love to use zippers, hardware, buckles and crystals both in men’s and women’s collections to give an overall urban mood.

What inspires you throughout the creative process?

My approach is to constantly keep my eyes wide open to get inspired from the world around me. The best exercise for a designer is to listen to people, to absorb the energy of the street and to transform it into an appealing and beautiful creation. With that said, none of my designs would exist without music. Music has always been part of my life and work. I spent my youth as a deejay and music is in everything I do - it embodies the energy of creation.

What music has inspired you in the past and what music inspires you in the present?

For a long time I used to follow rock stars like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Who, The Rolling Stones because, during the '60s and '70s, watching those people on stage was like watching a whole universe, a fashion collection. There was not a designer style. They created their own outfits. Now we are living in another era and there is another kind of music: hip-hop. There is fashion in hip hop as well but it comes from the street, it’s not couture, it’s another culture.

What would you say defines the Zanotti aesthetic when it comes to men's footwear? 

My aesthetic is a combination of creativity, proportions and quality. If you want to create unique designs, you need to stay true to your own aesthetic. You fail if you follow trends. All my creations are the results of a long process with constant challenges along the way. I am a perfectionist; I obsess over every detail. Though struggling, this process is the key to my success.

You have a very specific aesthetic - is there a certain audience you cater for?

I want to create shoes for young, modern and cool men. The collection is for a self-confident man who doesn’t follow rules and likes to play with his look. Today, the market is huge and there is a place for everyone. A successful designer should have a look that caters to a specific audience.

What is your definition of luxury?

Luxury is deeply rooted in the rich heritage of Italian craftsmanship. It is molded by the work of skilled artisans, the finest fabrics, softest leathers and perfect finishings. Luxury to me is incorporating modern and innovative designs with the tradition of being made in Italy.

Your sneakers are very embellished and oftentimes resemble jewelry or handbags in their design - is this resemblance or reference intentional?

When I started, my dream was to create custom-made shoes for celebrities and musicians. Shoes to wear for special occasions, something unique and extremely beautiful. My debut was designing elegant crystal stilettos for women. Later on, when my first men’s collection came to life, I wanted to follow the same rules and create shoes made of exquisite materials and embellishments. My care and attention to detail make my shoes not a complement to the outfit, but an essential part of the men’s wardrobe. When you wear Giuseppe Zanotti, your clothes become the accessory.

How do you feel about the current boom in the market for luxury sneakers? Many brands are producing shoes of a similar premium to yours but taking the opposite route, designing them in as clean and minimal a way as possible.

Through twenty years of Giuseppe Zanotti Design, I have learned that the market is so unpredictable; you never know where it takes you. I started as a women’s shoe designer and I would have never imagined designing sneakers would have been such a successful endeavor. I honestly think that nobody expected this boom, but sneakers are now a huge part of the business and I have learned that my customers are very specific. They want a WOW factor and distinctive features from me. I don’t need to be in line with the other designers; I just need to be true to myself.

How has the men's footwear industry changed in the 20 years you've been designing? 

In twenty years the men’s industry has totally changed. When I started, the market was very formal, black and a little boring from my perspective. I have always had my own vision in mind and I wanted to put some energy and rock 'n' roll inside my designs. In the end it’s all about finding your formula and following your own rules.

Are you a fan of sneakers yourself? Do you wear them? 

I personally love to wear sneakers. They are comfortable, easy but also very irreverent and cool. The sneaker boom literally shook up fashion laws and etiquette. Now, you can easily match them with different outfits from a jumpsuit to a pair of jeans to a formal tuxedo. I think that no one could have anticipated this type of success. But, the men’s market was ready, it was time for revolutionary change.

Are there any sneakers you consider to be groundbreaking in their design or function? Will we ever see Zanotti sneakers that place function over design?

Sneakers allow me to work with innovative and technical materials that I could not use otherwise. I love to experiment with new and futuristic fabrics. You will see elements of this in both the design and function of my Spring/Summer 2015 collection. With that said, I am a fashion designer; I will always place creativity over function.

What was it like working with Kanye West?

Kanye and I have been friends for many years. Our creative collaboration was the natural result of our friendship. I deeply respect Kanye’s talent as an artist and poet. We share the same love and passion for music, fashion, beauty and proportions. Our creative process is the same whether designing a shoe or writing a song.  Working together was the perfect occasion to combine our energy and vibes.

Check out the designer's latest sneakers here.

  • Photography:The Selby & Marco Onofri

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