Riddle me This…Nico Zappiello
Up close and personal with Nico Zappiello, shoe designer and founder of his own shoe brand
If you knew then what you know now……….would you still do it?
Yes of course. I know that must sound surprising given how volatile the fashion industry can be, but I wouldn’t change my experiences and path and wouldn’t change my profession as a fashion designer.
My passion for shoemaking took hold when I was just a boy, growing up in the tiny Italian town of Montecatini, near Florence. By age 18, I was working at the local shoe factory, creating footwear from scratch as I honed my skills. Fashion is in my blood and designing shoes and clothing has always been my dream, a dream I am still having.
And while I knew how hard it would be to launch my company, you never really know how hard the startup of building a business is until you try. I think always making sure that I am true to my identity and creating products that bring me joy, has been a guiding force in helping stay creative and driven.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
When I was in Tuscany, early on in my career, I was working for a shoe factory that was making early 1900’s shoes for the film Titanic. I remember one day the factory owner saying to me, “Making good shoes is like making a great movie. You need a good writer, good actors, and a good photographer. And a good director puts the puzzle together.”
When I came to U.S. I was struck by the success and achievements of Steve Jobs and have always loved his quote, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
What’s the weirdest rumour you’ve ever heard about yourself?
I think I am too early in my solo career to have weird rumors…..ask me again in 10 years!
What was your biggest break?
Moving to America in 2010 was lifechanging and a start to a whole new level success for me, but I have to remember my time in Italy. There I had the opportunity to work closely with designers from Armani, D&G, and Prada. What I learned from them is unapparelled. The seriousness and care that they had with the creation of every piece of fashion is something that I still think about.
When I moved to U.S., I was able to expand my knowledge. Different viewpoints, different styles. I needed to learn more about the American footwear market. I have been fortunate with a variety of brands in the U.S. including comfort brands like Aerosoles, and more luxury brand like Bruno Magli and Zac Posen.
With all of this insight and experience, I have been able to hone my own skills over the years to create timeless shoes that don’t sacrifice design or quality. I have tried to stay true to my roots by making sure my shoes are made in Italy by people that I know and trust. And I make sure to go to Italy for the production of every one of my collections. I actually just got back from Florence, as we have just finished creating some new shoes as a part of our 2019 Collection.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
Very much so… But not as lucky as winning the lottery. Kidding! I have to say I have met so many amazing people that I have learned from over the years and would not be where I am today without them.
I also feel very lucky to have grown up in Tuscany, surrounded by people that worked in fashion. It was part of my everyday life. I fell in love with it. I was surrounded by beauty every day, architecture, art, just walking every morning to school I would pass in front of beautiful churches and renaissance palaces. To have had that experience and now be in a different place in my life where I can do what I love to do most, designing fashion, shoes for a living. I feel very lucky.
What’s most important in your life?
The support of my family pushes me and encourages me every day. This is absolutely essential for me to be able to focus on my work and create shoes that I am proud of. Their endless love inspires my collections. I want to design shoes that they are proud of as well.
What brands do you admire?
Not only the brand, but the person behind the brand. I always admired Salvatore Ferragamo as a person who built a brand really without even knowing what he was building. He focused on the product and his reputation. He created a new way to see shoes, for his time, and he invented and patented many new innovative footwear constructions. Salvatore was a dreamer, like me, and he made his dream a reality.
Ferrari as well. It has been around for over 100 years. From the 1948 Barchetta to the Enzo Ferarri, they have transformed an industry while continuing to create timeless cars, unparalleled by anyone.
Like them I hope to create shoes that are expressive of me, but that make a statement, help push fashion forward, and remain timeless. You see my collections are all about Time. Time inspires the way I think about fashion. How versatile can a shoe be? How long can you wear a “dress shoe”? And even more so, I want to make sure that people can enjoy my shoes forever. I still have shoes that I bought 20 years ago.
Do you have a guilty pleasure – if so what is it?
Chocolate. I have a “small” bowl on my desk at home where I sketch and mole over ideas for different collections. I need a piece after every meal. And I always make sure that I have a chocolate color in my collections.
Describe your personal sense of style.
Timeless, simple, conservative, minimal, appropriate. I appreciate the quality of the materials and details. When it comes to shoes, you should wear a pair of shoes that make you feel confident. I always think about the phrase, “the shoes make the man”. In my mind they are the first thing that people notice in an outfit. For men shoes are one of the foundations for life’s milestones – your college graduation, your first interview, your first day of work, your wedding. I believe style is very personal in that way. It not only represents that moment, but who you are in that moment.
My sense of style also depends a lot on mood. I like to wear minimal almost rigorous clothes. I like pairing chino pants with a simple sweater or a suit with a t-shirt. And of course, the most important part of any of my outfits is the shoes.