On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Footwear News will host its 2016 Achievement Awards in New York, honoring the best and brightest in the industry, including Hall of Fame inductee René Caovilla. Read on to learn more about his illustrious career.
At the headquarters of his namesake firm, designer René Caovilla has proudly integrated his executive offices with the factory, where around 100,000 pairs of shoes are created yearly by hand.
This close connection between business and design reflects the path of Caovilla himself, who inherited the company from his father, Edoardo, and has transformed it into a global luxury brand.
“I started in 1952. At that time, I was still finishing school but already had a passion for shoes,” explained Caovilla, now in his late 70s. One of his first jobs was cutting leather, but “quickly, as soon I learned the essential skills, I focused on creativity,” he added.
Caovilla’s headquarters are in the Riviera del Brenta footwear district, outside Venice. To be sure, Caovilla links his flamboyant yet elegant creativity to the Italian city’s opulent aesthetics. “Venice always served as a major source of inspiration for me,” he said, “from the embroideries to the bronze sculptures and the floors of San Marco cathedral. When I go to Venice, I always come home with a new idea.”
Micro crystals and precious embroideries rooted in the Venetian tradition punctuate the designer’s upscale shoes. However, it was an antique jewel that prompted him to design the brand’s iconic Snake shoe, which debuted in the 1970s and features a twisted rigid strap that wraps the ankle.
Like many of his peers, from the 1960s to 2000, Caovilla collaborated with major fashion labels to design and manufacture their shoe styles. “In 1960, I noticed the beautiful creations of Valentino Garavani. I got in touch with him and started designing and producing the shoes for his shows,” he recalled. “I used to realize four collections a year for Valentino until 1990.”
Later, he collaborated with John Galliano to create and manufacture Dior’s shoe collections from 1990 to 1995, then came Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel until 1999. Other close partners over the years have included Roger Vivier and Manolo Blahnik.
“I adore René,” said Blahnik. “He and his wife, Paola, are people I would love to see more of but never have the time. They belong to a tradition that is sadly disappearing in Italy — making shoes with extraordinary, other-worldly embellishments.”
Caovilla and wife Paola Buratto (who for years was in charge of public relations) strove to create a welcoming and cheerful atmosphere at work and at home, at their beautiful Palladian villa.
“One of the most important things in our company is that we have the human aspect in high consideration. People working with us have to feel good,” said Caovilla. “When you create an emotional bond with your people, they will always give their best.”
He has passed those same priorities to his son Edoardo, who joined the firm in 2010 and is gradually taking the reins. “My father taught me the importance of bringing family values into the company, re-creating a second family at work,” said Edoardo Caovilla. “Even as the company got bigger, he managed to create continuity among generations.”
While next generations of the Caovilla family will be focused on pushing the firm’s international expansion, the patriarch hopes only that they find joy in the endeavor.
“Three years ago, my son Edoardo gave me a grandson who bears my name,” the elder Caovilla said with pride. “I’m happy if he will do our job but only if he will be passionate. If you don’t love this job, it’s extremely hard.”