As a boy, my father would always pass by this villa, dreaming of the chance that someone would invite him to come in for tea. He never imagined that he would end up buying it,” says Edoardo Caovilla of the residence in Dolo, Venice, his father ended up acquiring in 1976.
Grandson of the founder and son of the current president, René Caovilla, this businessman, a financial specialist, also never imagined that one day he would be at the head of this historic brand – created in 1934, making it the world’s longest-lived luxury shoe business – much less that the new designs would carry his signature. “I’d always been passionate about finance, but also about art and beauty. I grew up surrounded by both, but in the end my studies, alongside as my first jobs, were focused on the former. When I accepted the creative directorship of Caovilla, I started down what was a hard and unfamiliar path for me, but I feel very proud of everything I’ve achieved until now,” he says.
Creative director and CEO of René Caovilla Edoardo Caovilla with his mother, Paola Buratto Caovilla, and his father, René Caovilla, president of the company, at the entrance of their villa in Fiesso d’Artico
He didn’t tackle the road in question until 2009, when, once he’d reached his 30s, his father insisted that he become part of the shoe business, one of the many that belong to the family – they manage an empire that ranges from the energy sector to property and the media – that carries their name. The offer, which Edoardo couldn’t refuse, required his absolute dedication and would end up changing the present, and future of the firm. “Although my father continues to preside over Caovilla, he is getting older and can’t be everywhere like he once was. He needed someone he could trust to take the lead on this project. What’s more, the company was crying out for a more modern vision and new strategies. I began this adventure to bring up to date what had gone 70 years without any kind of renewal.”
The change – well-thought out and carefully executed – has brought this luxury brand – whose shoes hit over the Dhs4,000 price tag per pair – alongside the market leaders, surpassing 2009’s Dhs42 million in sales and reaching more than Dhs168m by the close of 2017, and expanding from the four boutiques of a decade ago to the 20 with which they will end 2018, including in The Dubai Mall’s new Fashion Avenue.
The living room, situated on the building's ground floor, presided over by a painting by Pietro Liberi.
“Sincerely, it doesn’t seem to me to be such a crazy or radical transformation. It could have been much larger if we had taken some shortcuts, but I’ve always thought long term. For me, the most important thing is to respect Caovilla’s DNA. There are many brands that grow much more than us, but at the cost of destroying their legacy. And that, once it’s done, is irreversible,” he insists. The financial director of 2009 added ‘creative chief’ to his title in 2011, reaching a global vision of the business that he assures us has been crucial to the current success of the brand.
“To design a shoe isn’t something that one can learn in a week. So the first two years were very hard. But I studied and practiced a lot. After the first four collections, many of our partners called me to say that they liked what I was doing very much, and they supported me completely. Now, after seven years, it’s child’s play for me. Style is subjective. You can like our designs. Or not. But the quality is something that you can prove. And our shoes are, without a doubt, the best-made in the world,” Edoardo declares.
Edoardo outside his family home in Veneto
At the factory, situated scarcely a kilometre from the splendid 18th-century villa where his parents reside and where Edoardo spent his childhood, all the brand’s shoes are produced, and quality continues to be Caovilla’s signature.
The brand was founded by Edoardo Caovilla Senior in the 1930s and is in the same place the manufacturing base is found today.
“My grandfather was born here and this was where he had his little atelier. Over the years, the factory has been remodelled and extended until reaching its current dimensions.”
The villa, made up of a principal and secondary building, boasts lush gardens as well as a swimming pool and tennis court.
Edoardo Senior never courted headlines in the way other shoemakers such as Salvatore Ferragamo did in the first half of the 20th century, or Manolo Blahnik or Christian Louboutin in the 1990s. The Caovillas always preferred to shoe women discreetly.
“Neither my grandfather nor my father understood the power of communication. Audrey Hepburn was one of our regular clients and we don’t have so much as a photograph with her. This was one of the things that I set out to change from the moment I accepted the position,” he explains.
Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Nicole Kidman and Adriana Lima are some of the illustrious names with which Edoardo is remedying the decades in which René Caovilla was ignored by the media. “Our brand has never been as well-known as others. All of our success was thanks to word of mouth, and just before I came on the scene the name ran the risk of disappearing. These days, to appear in the press and on social media is fundamental for the survival of luxury brands.”
Edoardo’s shoe sketch for René Caovilla
Leading a busy life that is split between Milan, where his wife and three children live, and the Fiesso d’Artico villa (“I’ve moved into a separate building, so that we can all maintain our independence,” he jokes), Edoardo Caovilla works hard so that the business won’t die with the third generation. But when it comes to retiring here, he’s not so certain. “Of course I’d like to continue as part of this brand but I believe that the success of a businessman is to be able to see how his business would work without him – to create a team that understands your vision and strives to achieve it,” he asserts. And his children? “I’d like nothing more than for the brand to continue within the family. The most important thing is that they get outside experience so that they end up coming back, just like I did.”
From the September Issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia