René Caovilla’s Three Generations of Glamour

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On a warm summer day in Rome nearly 50 years ago, a young shoemaker from the painting-worthy Venetian province of Riviera del Brenta phoned Valentino Garavani. His name was René Caovilla, and he had just returned home to Italy to work at his father’s Fiesso d’Artico workshop after training abroad in Paris and London. Their family business, then known simply as Caovilla, had made a name for itself as the shoe to wear in the fabulous social circles of the time.

Since its founding in 1934, Edoardo, René’s father, cultivated a uniquely artisanal approach to his shoe line, which combined local Italian handwork with audacious gems. To this his son added avant-garde sculptural elements and an overwhelming fascination with the outside world. The Maasai Dance from northeast Africa, for example, would inspire one heel’s top beading, whereas, closer to home, a serpent bangle from 1st century BC Rome provoked Caovilla’s star creation (and symbol to this day): a bejeweled wrap-around sandal.

On his cold call to the fashion designer so many years ago René explained much of this. “I told him that we had many of the same customers—that we dressed many of the same women,” Caovilla remembers to CR. “I asked, ‘Would you like to come see my shoes? I think I have some things that might be interesting or you.’” Soon Garavani found himself in Fiesso d’Artico with the shoemaker, where the start of a three-decade, 120 collection collaboration would begin.

Walking through the Caovilla archives today this history is not lost. In a palatial factory pavilion surrounded by greenery some 30 minutes outside of the town of Veneto, it’s difficult to not feel the fashion legacy of the brand, Italy’s second-oldest luxury shoe company. But of course, Garavani was not Caovilla’s only collaborator. During his tenure at Christian Dior, John Galliano exclusively worked with the shoe designer to outfit his runway fantasies (and couture nightmares) in his bedazzled creations, while in the later years many others would come calling. For Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and Ralph Lauren, however, Caovilla answered.

In November of 2009, Edoardo Caovilla, René’s son, was named creative director and chief operating officer of his family’s nearly 100-year-old shoe company, which has since been renamed to René Caovilla. The goal, according to Edoardo, is to introduce modernity into the line without forgetting its past. “Every generation has a different point of view,” he explains over Skype, surely emblematic of this shift. “I want to take what my family did and build off that. I want to make Caovilla a world wide accessories brand.” Some of that includes getting those precious pairs on the likes of everyone from Jessica Chastain and Bella Hadid to CR star Rihanna, and some of that includes reaching outward.

Like his father, 41-year-old Caovilla has an insatiable need to travel. (“It’s all but necessary,” he says.) But while René was often jet setting with his sketchbook, Edoardo takes a more sociological approach to his itineraries. Admittedly not a trained shoemaker, Caovilla, who spent a few years working in private equity, argues that he likes to visit other parts of the world to see how the people there live. He’ll take this information and use it to understand how the Italy-based René Caovilla brand might better establish its homes away from home.

Dubai, for example, one of Caovilla’s favorite cities to travel to, is where the house most recently debuted its new retail concept in its biggest store yet. Developed by Milanese architects Marijana Radovic and Marco Bonelli, the 1,076-square-foot is a dramatic change from the brand’s baroque style boutique near Chiesa di San Moisè in Venice. A gold-embellished façade welcomes guests into a minimal space highlighted by cool, luxurious details and open air to breathe, while, overhead, a tall dome structure nods back to Italy in material references. The new design is set to roll out globally throughout the rest of the year, with openings in Las Vegas, Miami, and Hong Kong.

In spite of all this forward motion, René Caovilla still has a legacy at its core to uphold. Three generations ago, its eponym, under the apprenticeship of Luigi Voltan, began writing a story that is still told to this day. At Fiesso d’Artico, each exotic piece of Caovilla leather (“all from Italia,” a factory passerby explains) is still cut and steamed as it always has. Each strappy sandal is beaded and glossened and examined and beaded again like before.

“The key is consistency,” smiles Edoardo. “It’s what makes a Caovilla a Caovilla.”

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