A René Caovilla sandal from 1995

MILAN — René Caovilla was selected to represent Italian footwear at the 57th Venice Biennale as part of the Luxus exhibition at the city’s Pavilion, revolving around the theme of luxury.

A press conference to present the project will be held on Monday with the mayor of Venice in attendance. The exhibit will be inaugurated on May 12, then open to the public beginning the following day and run until Nov. 26.

René Caovilla will be flanked by other artistic and traditional crafts from the city, such as glassblowing, mosaics, textiles and porcelain.

“For over 80 years, we have been taking the inspiration for our shoes from the myriad facets of both art and Venice itself, a timeless city that continues to astonish and hold spellbound anyone that comes into contact with it,” said chairman René Fernando Caovilla. “We are conscious that we have been part of something unique and extraordinary for three generations and so we have always attempted to use our creations to interpret the marriage of Venetian haute craftsmanship and the world of art.”

Caovilla also sees this as “a great opportunity to celebrate our relationship with the city. In fact, the project stems from a desire to rediscover a sense of the contemporary in tradition, underscoring a link with the local area that has flourished for over 80 years. As the first entirely handmade Venetian footwear brand, Caovilla simply had to be part of the project.”

In September, Caovilla unveiled a video dedicated to the brand’s hometown, Venice, to coincide with the city’s film festival, which focuses on the artisans working in the city’s “calli,” the narrow streets between the canals, from a gondola maker to a textile workshop where brocade is woven on 18th-century looms. At the time, René Caovilla’s son Edoardo, creative director and chief operating officer, acknowledged the influence of the city on the brand’s designs.

Inside the Venice Pavilion, visitors are shown how the jeweled shoes are created through a sensory experience, with color and scent interplays and lighting effects.

The company was founded in 1923 in Fiesso d’Artico, a footwear hub outside Venice, by Caovilla’s father Edoardo, who opened his first atelier in 1934. After his design education in Paris, his son took the reins of the company in 1955, steering the brand into the couture segment and incorporating precious stones and luxury fabrics into the artisanal designs. The Fiesso d’Artico workshop and headquarters are housed in a Palladian villa.

The exhibition will display some of the brand’s most famous models, such as the Snake sandal designed in 1968 that was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1975.

The Snake sandal from 1975

The 1975 Snake sandal.  Courtesy Image

In 1999, the company began to expand with its own stores, opening its first Milan boutique in Via Bagutta, near Via Montenapoleone, followed by units in Paris, Rome, Venice, London, Doha, Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai and, most recently, Dubai, reaching a total of 13.

The new René Caovilla boutique in Dubai

The new René Caovilla boutique in Dubai.  Courtesy Image

Caovilla’s son Edoardo joined the business in 2009, quadrupling the company’s revenues in less than a decade and expanding it globally. Exports now account for more than 90 percent of sales, equally divided between North America, the Middle East and Asia. Revenues now total more than 40 million euros, or $43.6 million, said Edoardo Caovilla, who expressed his pride “in a strategy that is aimed not only to grow our revenues, but to build all company sectors structuring our management, strengthening and sharing strategies and rejuvenating the workforce and the precious team of artisans.”

The company has doubled the space dedicated to offices and production at the plant and headquarters. “This underscores on one side the attention that we pay to all segments collateral to production and manufacture and, on the other side, inserting new state-of-the-art machinery for the treatment of hides and fabrics, the opportunity to start on new design paths. I would call this a full evolution of the Caovilla magic,” he concluded.

René Caovilla LED sandal.

René Caovilla LED sandal.  Courtesy Photo

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