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.
Lesley Griffith and her dog, Mojito, at Capretto Shoes in South Miami
Don’t you offer special perks for that VIP following, too?
We actually have a VIP alleyway drive-through. Regulars can call ahead and not have to even walk into the store. They pull up to the store’s alleyway, and I or one of the girls here will bring out boxes of shoes and lay them out on a sheet for them to try on. It’s basically like a drive-through for women who need new shoes in a hurry.
Your store feels almost more like a living room in someone’s home than a boutique.
It’s true. When we built the store, we wanted it to be very intimate. Customers bring their kids constantly. Sometimes we babysit while people go to get their bikini waxes! I bring my dog every day. It’s really an atmosphere where people feel comfortable.
You make it sound like some kind of private club!
It is like a club. And the men also know that when they come into the store, they’ll get great advice. We know their wives so well, we’ll never steer them in the wrong direction.
What happens when a customer comes in thinking she wants a certain shoe she saw in a magazine, but in your heart you know it’s wrong for her? Do you try to talk her into something different?
It boils down to being honest with our customers. A lot of the shoes people see in the press don’t even make it. What you see on models doesn’t always translate to the real world of shoe-buying. But our store is so diverse, with so many different styles, brands and silhouettes, that if I get the right shoe on them and it works, customers will leave happy. I’d direct them somewhere else if I think they aren’t going to look pretty, because at the end of the day that’s what’s going to bring them back to me.
You work so many seasons ahead, and you’re the one seeing the trends firsthand. It’s great that you can give clients that insight.
It’s true. And you, Giuseppe, walk into market appointments as this amazing designer with your whole collection planned and an idea of what you want it to look like. But then you’ll spend days working with different buyers, listening to them about what they need, what they’re hearing from customers and what needs to be tweaked. That’s what makes you successful—you still do that.
Wait, I thought this interview was about you.
But you listen to us! The process works, and that’s why your brand is so successful. You actually get on the phone and call the factories, which I feel isn’t very common anymore.