Giuseppe Zanotti: The Masked Man Who Makes Kanye’s Shoes

His designs are the ultimate hip-hop statement and the 58-year-old Italian shoemaker is pumped about it.

Giuseppe Zanotti likes to listen to music as he works. He’s currently on a Bowie kick, but he likes new stuff. In fact, he spends a lot of time listening to tracks spat by friends and loyal customers, guys like Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and 2 Chainz. Having come up in the world as a designer of women’s shoes, Zanotti is now sitting comfortably on the thrown of hip-hop footwear. 

He intends to stay there by innovating and working with artists to realize shared visions. He spoke to MAXIM about why he loves his medium and the future of flashy footwear.

Did you make a conscious effort to become the most prominent maker of sneakers for rappers?

In the last five years, I met Kanye and 2 Chainz and Kid Cudi and I really liked the music. I always worked with Beyonce and Nicki Minaj. I like to be associated with music. We started to do some shoes for Kanye and he pushed me to do some sneakers for his concerts and they looked so cool I started to do them for my business. 

What appeals to you about sneakers as a medium?

Sneakers are a new era. Anyone can feel new with a new pair of shoes. They make you feel contemporary. It’s fun because I’m not a young designer and it opens my brain. Hip-hop isn’t just for the U.S.. Everyone loves it.

Shoes aren’t anymore for girls or boys because it’s unisex. In the last four or five years, all the big, important fashion houses in the world have invested in accessories, but not clothing so much.

What is it like collaborating with musicians to make shoes?

Very easy, very informal – more experimental than the real process. I can realize the shoes in two days and they’re full of vibration – so cool. These people aren’t slaves to the technical problems of shoes so I feel extremely free. Sometimes there are requests that – I can’t work with iron – are impossible, but it’s fun to do.

But these are opinionated people. They want what they want.

You gotta think about the person. You have streetwear guys and tuxedo guys and the sneaker can be strident like a shot of vodka, something extreme. 

Do you think of your sneakers as the next step in a footwear evolution or as a distinct type of shoe?

The sneaker comes from sports, but it’s couture now. It’s not made in Asia, it’s made in my little village in Italy. I can customize everything. I use silk and diamonds and crystals. I think my sneakers have a lot of good vibrations.

Is there an audience beyond the hip-hop world you want to put in your shoes?

You know, 65-year-olds love sneakers because they make them feel forty.

Will the rising popularity of sneakers ever render wingtips and more formal shoes obsolete?

I don’t think so. Formal is formal. I can’t wear sneakers all the time. Sometimes, I wear other shoes. It’s not my challenge designing formal – it’s so boring – but it’s still important. I sell a lot of classic black sneakers made from every material because everyone loves black and if you mix and match material, you get an opera.

Do you ever think, ‘No, this is too much’?

Neon, Swarovski, whatever, sometimes I say for a few minutes that it’s crazy, but then you realize it’s fantastic.

Check out Zanotti’s biggest hits…

Photos by Victor Boyko/Getty Images