Giuseppe Zanotti and Lesley Griffith’s working relationship spans 17 years. Here, the pair collaborate on a sketch in his New York showroom.

I first met Lesley Griffith when she was 18 years old and just starting out in the shoe business. Now she’s a buyer for Capretto Shoes boutique in South Miami, and we’re each other’s biggest fans. When she got married, I custom designed her wedding shoes. And when I came out with my first collection under my name in 1994, Lesley placed one of the first orders. We caught up during Fashion Week in New York.

  Black suede peep-toe bootie with silk ruffle detail by Giuseppe Zanotti Design

GIUSEPPE ZANOTTI: You were a kid when we first met! How did you know you’d end up in this field?
LESLEY GRIFFITH: I’ve never had a job that wasn’t selling shoes. The minute I was of legal age, I was working as a stock girl. I started on weekends just so I could buy a prom dress! But soon I was giving advice to customers and eventually was asked to work on the floor. I graduated, went to college, attended film school to become a cinematographer and then went back to shoes. I didn’t just wake up and say, “I want to be a buyer.” I had to learn the process from the ground up. I’ve been working at Capretto for 17 years. When you first launched Giuseppe Zanotti Design, you brought me your collection, which was so exciting and new.

You’re a success. And your store is successful because you’re an artist whose talents lie in choosing.
I do think the whole process, in which the pieces go from designer to retailer to buyer, is an art. We buy things to make ourselves feel good, and I’m good at making women feel beautiful. Giuseppe, you’re amazing at doing that: Your style is not just about fashion, it’s about making the woman’s legs and feet look good—making her look sexy. And in my store I’m not going to sell a customer something just because it’s in style; I want her to leave feeling beautiful about herself. Everybody will compliment her, and she’ll return.

A lot of buyers today don’t actually work in-store. You seem to buy the more old-fashioned way. Why?
It comes down to the fact that I work on the floor. I know my customers by their first names. I know when I’m buying a size 7 or 9 which of them will ultimately opt for it. I think that’s the problem with the bigger stores: It’s hard to read off a spreadsheet or a calculation, because you lose touch with the customers, their needs and what makes them happy. I’m lucky I’ve had so much exposure on the floor, building relationships with people. I’m selling to my original clients’ daughters now, which is scary!

You have quite a VIP following in Miami, so you must have lots of interesting customer stories. We have a lot of celebrities who shop in the store, but they’re a little quiet and like to fly under the radar. A lot of NBA players’ wives come in. And when I was younger, 18, I was selling to Sylvester Stallone’s wife. They used to live in a big house in Coconut Grove, and she would ask me to deliver her shoes personally. I remember delivering bags of shoes to this enormous house. Jennifer Flavin opens the door, and there’s Rocky, watching TV in his La-Z-Boy. I was such a kid, it was so wild for me.

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