MILAN — René Caovilla, the man, is ready to leave the pandemic-disrupted years behind and inject fresh energy into the luxury footwear company his father founded in 1928 and which he helped propel to global fame.
A year after he spearheaded a reshuffle of the company’s organization — as part of which his son Edoardo Caovilla, former creative director and chief executive officer, has left to pursue other ventures and a new board of directors was installed — the luxury shoemaker is rolling out a retail expansion plan and retooling its key commercial, communications and design divisions to spur future growth.
“I am convinced that the company was not going in the right direction, and I decided to return and set a new plan in motion,” said Caovilla, the company’s president, speaking over the phone from its headquarters in Stra, a small town on the outskirts of Venice.
Signaling the renewed confidence, a sprawling flagship in Venice is bowing just in time for the Biennale art exhibition. The 538-square-foot boutique located on Calle Larga XXII Marzo — home to other luxury brands including Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Chanel — was designed to resemble a signature Venetian living room with marbles and golden details embellishing the space. It replaces a smaller unit the brand operated on Venice’s Sestiere San Marco.
“The company is great, healthy and robust, it needed some retooling in the creative, communication and commercial divisions. By leveraging these three assets, everything suddenly clicked and changed,” he explained.
The founder noted that in the 14 months since February 2021, the company’s sales — also impacted by the COVID-19 business hangover — skyrocketed more than 50 percent. The brand said sales in 2021 jumped 20 percent versus 2020.
Choosing skilled right-hand men and women, Caovilla said he’s laying out a long-term plan that is supposed to grant continuity for the company until 2050. The 84-year-old executive and company’s creative head, who notably introduced the bestseller Cleo sandals in 1969, has lots of projects under his belt, but he doesn’t want to bite off more than he can chew.
“It allows you to stay independent and be free,” he said. “Over the years, a lot of investors approached us, but I’m not interested, as the long-term plan suggests.”
This year in addition to the Venice flagship relocation, René Caovilla is unveiling two shops in Asia via local partners in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and Chengdu, China. The latter country is particularly appealing, Caovilla said, as are the U.S. and the Middle East. The three regions will be a focus for the brand’s further retail expansion in 2023.
As reported, in 2020 the luxury footwear brand made a retail push in China, opening a flagship at Beijing’s SKP luxury department store and a pop-up shop in Shanghai at Plaza 66. It also launched its directly operated e-commerce site on Alibaba’s Tmall.
As brand awareness improve, Caovilla sees distribution growing with directly operated stores and franchises globally. He anticipates a “bright future ahead,” he said.