MILAN — Leveraging a 20 percent increase in its handbags division over the last two seasons, footwear designer René Caovilla is investing in the category with an expanded, dedicated design team.“Handbags are working really well for us and our customers are increasingly asking us also for this accessory,” said Caovilla.More daywear models will be added to the brand’s iconic feather and Swarovski styles.“We realized our handbags have as much draw as our shoes,” said Giorgia Caovilla, company vice president and daughter of the founder.The designer said the handbags will be in line with the finely crafted footwear line, made by hand in Italy and detailed with precious embellishments. The average shoe price retails upward of $1,000.At the same time, the company is venturing into new markets and expanding its retail network around the world. In July, the brand opened its first store in Venice.“At long last, we finally found the position we wanted and it wasn’t easy,” said Caovilla.Located next to Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, the store is steps from the city’s main square, the postcard staple Piazza San Marco.“It took patience and a dose of good luck,” said the designer, whose company is based in Fiesso d’Artico, between Padua and Venice.By 2010, Caovilla plans 20 stores around the world. In addition to Venice, there are boutiques in Milan, Rome, Paris, London, Tokyo, Dubai, Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, Fla., and Porto Cervo, on Italy’s island of Sardinia. The company opened its second U.S. store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills this spring. Giorgia Caovilla said the boutique offered great visibility and had strong sell-throughs.“American customers get us and they are more daring than Europeans,” she said. “They are confident enough to wear high heels and jeweled shoes during the day, [unlike] many Europeans.”A store in Bal Harbour, Fla., will open in the fall, and another is set for 2011 at Las Vegas’ new $9 billion CityCenter mall.Units in Saudi Arabia and Moscow will open this year and boutiques in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore in India are slated for 2009. Caovilla said the firm worked on expanding its wholesale distribution two years ago, but shifted the focus to its own retail units. That said, Caovilla added that department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus are considered expanding distribution of the brand.“My dream is to open a store in New York,” she said, adding that the company does “not want to expand too much, but rather remain a niche label.”Caovilla said the company cannot compete with giant conglomerates in advertising spend, and rather relies on word of mouth — and a little help from celebrities, such as Uma Thurman, Carrie Underwood or Felicity Huffman, who have worn styles from the brand.The Venice store is modeled as a 1700s Venetian palazzo, with tapestries, tables with gold-leaf motives, brocade upholstering and Chinese vases — all authentic pieces that belong to the designer’s personal collection.Next year, Caovilla will open a museum at the firm’s headquarters, displaying 3,000 archival pieces. A book on the designer’s work and inspirations is also set for publication in 2009, a big year for the company, as Caovilla said he will launch a costume jewelry collection and a fragrance.
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