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On a recent spring morning, Giuseppe Zanotti sat down at a table in his New York showroom and began to sketch miniature drawings on a blank piece of paper.
The designer, speaking to Footwear News about his 20th anniversary, illustrated the answer to nearly every question.
He traced a stiletto, then a sneaker, bag and cuff bracelet as he described the evolution of his namesake brand.
He drew a DJ booth while he reminisced about his former profession and talked about a deep passion for music.
Zanotti even doodled a logo for an imaginary collection based on midtown New York, home to his Big Apple digs and so many of his top retail accounts. (It’s also where he first debuted his line at The Plaza Hotel.)
Soon, the designer had filled the paper with an abundance of images — memories, inspirations, new ideas.
For two decades, Zanotti’s creative thinking has fueled his business, Vicini SpA, growing it from a small Italian company into an international powerhouse. Today, the firm operates four brands: Giuseppe Zanotti Design, Giuseppe Zanotti Homme, Tapeet and Vicini.
But the designer still views the venture as an “experiment.” “You’re not God, so you can’t know exactly what will happen. This work is full of problems and risks,” he said. “But you have to trust your instincts. You put your love into it and do your best.”
His instincts have helped him tap into a variety of opportunities, most notably in the burgeoning men’s business and in booming markets such as Asia. Global retail expansion is also high on the agenda; by year-end, he expects to have about 100 stores around the world.
All told, Vicini — which racked up sales of 115 million euros, or $157 million at current exchange, in 2013 — is on track to deliver double-digit growth in 2014.
Zanotti got another boost when LVMH-backed investment funds L Capital Management and L Capital Asia recently took a 30 percent stake in his company. “[Their involvement] will allow us to have more structure, reinforce our penetration in the international markets and enable us to keep growing,” said Zanotti, whose Italian factories produce about 450,000 pairs of shoes annually, mostly in his hometown of San Mauro Pascoli.
His production prowess has been a key factor in that success, according to major retailers. “Giuseppe is extremely strategic. He has built his infrastructure at the same pace he developed his collection,” said Elizabeth Kanfer, senior fashion director of accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Kanfer said she always is impressed by how Zanotti incorporates his passions — music, travel, wine, people — into his work.
Indeed, partnerships with Kanye West and other musicians have helped the designer garner buzz, and Zanotti said he meets constantly with artists of all kinds.
“All my collaborations evolve organically; they’re not premeditated. Every artist is different. You can learn something from each one,” he observed, noting that he recently met the rapper Cardi and was introduced to Will.i.a.m in London.
Zanotti’s cultural connections are beneficial in a variety of ways, said Peter Harris, president of Hong Kong-based Pedder Group. “Giuseppe has a very prolific approach to design, which expresses itself in terms of how he explores and develops a collection,” he said.
Harris noted that in addition to furthering his presence in major capitals such as Shanghai and Beijing, Zanotti is making a name for himself in secondary Chinese cities like Chengdu, home to Lane Crawford’s newest store.
Tracy Margolies, SVP and GMM of footwear, handbags, contemporary 5F and beauty for Bergdorf Goodman, said Zanotti's success is due in large part to his unwavering vision.
"He always has a strong point of view and stays true to his brand," she said."Giuseppe creates shoes for women of all lifestyles, which makes for endless future opportunities."
Now as he plots the future, Zanotti, 57, said he also is pondering the past.
Would he have done anything differently? “Maybe changed professions,” he quipped. “You lose part of your life working 12, 13 hours a day and every weekend. It’s better now, but at the beginning, it was so hard because I had to do everything myself.
“But my heart is in fashion,” he concluded. “I’m a better soldier after 20 years.”
What is the significance of reaching the 20-year milestone?
GZ: I’m so young. [Laughs] For my first 13 years in this profession, I was a consultant in shoes. It was important for me to understand what I wanted to do with my life. When I started my own brand, the idea was for the company to grow, but not so fast. Each season, I’ve grown 10 or 20 percent, sometimes 30 percent. It was important to [expand] our level of expertise at the same time. When you open more stores and sell to more department stores and locations, you need to have more production capacity. You need to invest time to learn, teach and create. Now, we produce ladies’ shoes, men’s shoes, sneakers, belts, jewelry. There are few companies in Italy that have this kind of operation.
How has your life changed since you launched the company?
GZ: We launched the line at The Plaza Hotel 20 years ago without any money. We have money now and we can extend the business and open more stores. But every season, you still have to restart from zero. You need to have the same amount of passion.