Giuseppe Zanotti and Blake Lively talk shoes at Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC. Photo courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue

Shoemaker to the stars Giuseppe Zanotti recently visited Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City to meet his customers face-to-face, take pictures with them and autograph the soles of their Zanotti heels.

Before one of his biggest fans Blake Lively arrived (and clusters of hyperventilating teens started gathering in the 8th Floor shoe department), StyleList got a chance to sit down with the Italian footwear designer -- who was wearing red,white and blue Nikes -- for an exclusive chat.

StyleList: You began designing shoes 25 years ago and you do hundreds of designs every season. How do you stay inspired?

Giuseppe Zanotti: When I start to design shoes, I think in terms of concepts. I write things down and I take pictures on my BlackBerry -- maybe of the leg of a chair that I like -- and send the shots to my assistants.

I don't believe in seasons and I don't design shoes like "Harry Potter" -- Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3. It's just the same woman who needs some new energy for herself.

SL: What did you think of Alexander McQueen's crazy 12-inch mutant-like shoes from his most recent collection, inspired by Darwin's "On the Origins of Species?"
GZ: In general, I don't like shoes by other designers. But I saw McQueen's shoes and they were like objects from another world. Personally, I liked them very much because it was a show. Women need to understand that the runway is theater. I'm sure there are everyday shoes in the collection, too.

SL: Would you ever do something so crazy?
GZ: McQueen is a designer of clothing and shoes and bags. But I am only a designer of shoes. And for me, I cannot forget that my mission is to create shoes for all occasions for the woman of the universe. I do fashionable shoes, but I can't forget the stability and the fit. The shoes are meant to be comfortable, and then sexy. Not the other way around.

SL: You make pretty expensive shoes. How has the recession affected your business? Do you design differently?
GZ:
The recession was very negative for business and I had a lot of doubts about my strategy. My collection is consistently very expensive. But we needed to cut the costs, and when I tried to design the collection with this idea in my head, I was absolutely unhappy. I said, "Forget it, I don't want to change. I want to be free even if it's the last season I do a collection."

And I did a really beautiful collection and all of the customers loved it because my competitors were doing sad colors and little collections. We started out the year very well and I think after 5-6 months of not buying, women said it was enough! Now they wants things that are special.

SL: Jimmy Choo signed on to do a collection for H&M. Would you ever go the fast fashion route?
GZ:
For myself, no. I saw my sandal in an H&M on Fifth Avenue. And I took a shot and sent to my friend and he goes, "It's not possible. They are the same." I'm not super happy when they copy my shoes, but I understand. It's nice when fashion is accessible to everybody.

If a girl loves Balmain, and needs to have something like it, it's nice that H&M does that. But I don't think Giuseppe Zanotti designing for another brand makes sense. Some designers have a house behind them, but I am physically here and I shouldn't have to put my name on something like that.

It's good in terms of popularity, but I think my customer wouldn't be happy. I respect when Karl Lagerfeld or Madonna do something with H&M. because they are personalities. But I'm a shoemaker, and if I did it for a cheaper price for incredible worldwide distribution, it doesn't make sense.

SL: We saw pictures of you laughing and hanging out with Rihanna at Fashion's Night Out. Are you doing any projects with her?
GZ:
During that event I suggested some special shoes just for Rihanna that would be incredible. I explained that they would have fireworks and explosions on them. She loved the idea and she said she needed them immediately. They're in production now and they are beautiful.