In 1969, the Venetian shoe brand René Caovilla invented The Cleo—the house’s iconic snake sandal, inspired by coiled Roman bracelets from the first century BC. Six years later, the sandal was recognized for its unique design that wraps around the ankle. It was exhibited at MoMA and later included in the museum’s permanent collection. Creating footwear coveted by celebrities and shoe-lovers around the world for its craftsmanship and evolving design, René Caovilla is also involved in the art world. Last year, it was the only brand to represent Italian footwear at the 57th Venice Biennale. Today, it is guided by a third-generation heir to the brand, creative director and CEO Edoardo Caovilla.
Whitewall spoke with Edoardo about the family-run business, Italy’s balance of beauty and proportion, and how the art of free-diving inspires his designs.
WHITEWALL: How would you de ne your role as creative director and CEO of René Caovilla?
EDOARDO CAOVILLA: I have chosen to prioritize philosophy over product and principles over results. I’m convinced that eventually both would follow as a natural consequence of my approach. Filled with deep admiration for my father, René, whom I describe as “a footwear poet,” I will continue to write new chapters in the absolutely unique story of a maison that has grown whilst holding fast for three generations to values it quite simply deems nonnegotiable.
WW: You’re the third-generation heir to the brand. What did your family instill in you that you practice and stay true to today?
EC: My father taught me the importance of a company with family values, in order to re-create a second home at work. My family wanted to combine craftsmanship and haute couture to give a touch of extreme elegance. In this way, the shoes become real gems.
What makes Caovilla so special is summarized by Venice—our city and iconic inspiration. Caovilla is an incomparable heritage of three generations. When compared to other brands, Caovilla is the only one directly liaising to the beauty of Venice.
Every single shoe has been handmade by our artisans in our factory since 1929. Caovilla creates couture shoes with handmade craftsmanship and unparalleled excellence and plays the subtle game of transforming iconic shapes into a new, desirable classic. All shoes are completely handmade in Italy.
Caovilla is a brand of cultured luxury that prioritizes the care of details, the quality, and keeps growing with its own style satisfying the preferences of our global customers.
WW: The brand also partnered with Vogue Italia Talents in a mentorship program encouraging young emerging talent in the footwear industry. What did that program consist of?
WH: It is designed for tomorrow’s aspiring shoe designers. The new high-intensity knowledge and innovation training and mentorship project, The Future Footwear Generation, was created by René Caovilla in collaboration with Vogue Talents.
It is a significant project through which the stages of scouting and recruiting young designers are the starting point to showcase and convey the deepest values of René Caovilla shoemaking art.
In addition to that, the creatives will have the unique opportunity to be guided in the development of their own capsule collection that will communicate their interpretation of the fashion world.
WW: What’s the starting point for the brand’s designs?
EC: Shoes are made to dream and seduce. Anything that surrounds me can be a source of inspiration—from nature to family.
WW: What was the inspiration for the Fall/Winter 2018 collection?
EC: Precious jewelry details meet elegant silhouettes. For the Fall/Winter 2018 season, René Caovilla celebrates its luxurious and sophisticated artisanal heritage with a collection designed for modern, feminine, and dynamic women. As exclusive works of art, each shoe reveals jewelry details enriched by a glamorous, metropolitan touch.
WW: How does the city of Venice influence what you do?
EC: Growing up in Venice, everything is quite perfect, and the beauty of the city gives you a kind of unconscious knowledge about the harmony of dimension, proportion, and color. Everything must be in harmony, so I am trying to keep the elements of colors, proportion, and harmony within.
Growing up in a country like Italy, and especially in Venice, gives you this sense of touch. Sometimes it goes in a way that is a little bit too extreme, but you always have the sense of right proportion. And this is what I think are the most important things we get from our country—beauty and proportion.
WW: The Cleo is known to take approximately 20 people around two days to create, with 42 elements. What is important to recognize about this process?
EC: I used to underline that the most important thing is not how many hours you put into creating something, but how many generations of knowledge or how far back this knowledge comes from.
I’m really proud to say out of all of the shoe companies in the industry, wherever in the world, there are not any other companies or factories that are able to realize what we do. I don’t want to say we are the best, but we are unique, for sure.
My relationship with the artisans is special. I always try and underline how important they are. They’re creating a masterpiece.
During the past nine years, we’ve really grown consistently. When I arrived, we used to have 20 to 25 artisans, but now we have more than 50. Their ages were over 62 and now they’re less than 40. It means that really, during these years, we have learned how to teach the new artisans what they should be proud of and what they should be proud to have. I think in the most interesting human aspect, we have developed. I’m particularly proud of that.
I came with the company nine years ago, and I was more or less the youngest one. Now I’m more or less the oldest. I think these social and educational aspects are very important.
WW: Aside from drawing inspiration from the tradition and the craftsmanship within the region you’re based in, is there anything else that inspires your designs?
EC: Yes. The most inspirational situation for me is when I practice one of my favorite sports—free-diving. I go 20–30 meters under the sea. I love swimming. And sometimes when I’m there, I really relax. I normally go down only with a light and I see such amazing colors and shapes in corals. When I come out of the sea, I start designing shoes, and it’s something that I really love. Under the water is my place.