Fans are already going crazy for Swae Lee and Giuseppe Zanotti’s new collab
Tie-ups with rappers are nothing new in high fashion, and at many big fashion shows, the seating plans have become a lot more complicated in recent years as mere influencers and fashion editors get shoved sideways to make room for the brightest, most shimmering entertainment stars on the planet.
Italian footwear designer Giuseppe Zanotti presides over a small, independent brand that he built from the ground up in an unprepossessing central Italian hill town. It might not be your idea of the ideal tie-up for a global megastar. With nothing like the clout of a multi-brand conglomerate, but with the eye of a designer and the skills of a traditional shoemaker, Zanotti has managed to carve out some pretty major collaborations with music royalty in the past 10 years, especially in women’s, where he has co-designed shoes with J-Lo and Rita Ora and created tour boots for Rihanna’s 2016 Anti world tour.
Zanotti, unsurprisingly, is a firm believer in the win-win of working with influential music stars. An early fan of Zanotti was Kanye West, who in 2010 visited Giuseppe’s factory in out-of-the-way San Mauro Pascoli for an introduction to the high-end shoe business.
“It was amazing, because he wanted to know everything about the process” says Giuseppe. “At one point, he got so into it that he asked one of our women—they of course had no idea who he was—to teach him how to use a sewing machine. He wanted to get into understanding every element. At the same time, while he was walking round the factory, he was composing raps with Virgil Abloh, who he had brought with him. It was a real inspiration to learn how much of a talent Kanye is. Everything is open.” Zanotti subsequently made the shoes for West’s debut runway show in 2011 and credits Kanye with persuading him to get into the sneaker market himself.
In Miami on Friday night, Zanotti joined forces with rising rap star Swae Lee to launch a new line of Zanotti men’s sneakers and shoes that created a semi-riot in the shoe department of Saks Fifth Avenue’s Brickell Center store in downtown. Hundreds of fans, football star friends, and unsuspecting shoppers got swept along with the tide . A tangled halo of smartphones held aloft followed the pair around the shoe department as both signed sneakers and people’s clothing with marker pens while Swae Lee distributed CDs of as-yet-unreleased music.
Back in the green room, the rapper mused on the creative process. “Ideas move so fast now. You’ve got to make sure you’re time-relevant and you’ve got to be bold. A not-giving-a-f*** attitude is what makes a guy cut through," he said. "Personally, I think I use the same part of the brain to design shoes that I use to make songs; everything is related. I was always a fan of floral print because I’m a fan of nature. I figured that would be a natural addition.”
“When we met,” says Zanotti, “Swae definitely started from this hand-painted idea and he picked on florals, an idea that is of course more common in women’s fashion. He also wanted bright, almost fluoro, colors—things you’d more likely see on sneakers, but he wanted them even for the more elegant dress shoes we made. Every time you work with someone, if you are open, there’s something you learn that makes you think”.
“I think it’s a two-way stimulation,” he continues. “I’m old school. I have knowledge of design and making and manufacturing; he has pure instinct. He has a very raw creativity, but it's surprisingly refined."