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In New York for a mere 72 hours, René Caovilla designer and COO Edoardo Caovilla had a packed schedule. Luckily, he allowed Footwear News to tag along the day before he hopped the red eye home to Milan. Caovilla, 37, recently took the creative reigns of the family company began by his grandfather Edoardo Sr. in 1938, and he is now the third generation charged with continuing the legacy. The cheerful designer was in town to show the pre-fall ’14 collection, his own take on signature Caovilla glamour, with sporty high-tops, baroque ’n’ roll laced booties and dainty kitten heels. But in our brief time together, I discovered a family man who loves a life aquatic, from water polo and free diving to decadent sushi dinners.
Due to jetlag, Edoardo starts his day early and on a healthy note. “I stay in the Parker Meridian for the rooftop swimming pool,” he shares. A few laps and a trip to the gym are part of his routine in any locale. “I always swim in Milan as well. I used to play water polo from 17 to 24,” he says. “If you check my DNA, I’m probably more fish than anything. I love to scuba dive and free dive.”
After catching up on business back home, Edoardo reports to his light-filled Madison Avenue showroom. “Thanks to the work everybody has done the past few years, we’ve doubled the business, created profitability and increased brand awareness,” he says. “It’s great to mix my financial background together with design.” For the latter skill, he credits his father, René. “He taught me to have a taste for beauty. In fashion, art, architecture, nature, you can find inspiration everywhere,” he shares. “He still designs some wonderful masterpieces.”
I meet Edoardo at the showroom, where he is taking the Saks Fifth Avenue buying team through the line. He confides that his favorites are a decadent trio of red velvet, black crystal and lace styles. “Of course, what the designer likes is often the kiss of death for buyers,” he says. “They pick the opposite.” Even so, he tells me business with his U.S. partners is good enough that he dined with the Bergdorf Goodman team last night at Sushi of Gari to celebrate. “We’re in such a great moment together with booming momentum, so we were asking how to grow. We’re very enthusiastic.”
I take Caovilla to Ursus Rare Books, a hidden gem of a shop near the showroom. Archivists take us into the private room for illustrated tomes dating from the 15th century. Olivia Kraus, director of the print department, asks about our interests and she quickly retrieves a 19th century English original on footwear. “The proportions and dimensions are remarkable,” Caovilla marvels. We move on to the artist monographs, and he picks up “Relics” by Damien Hirst. “I love this, but at home, I like to mix modern architecture with ancient art.”
“Besides art, my passions are food and sport,” Caovilla says. “Let’s go to the Nike store because I want to get some Nike FuelBands for my team back home. I got mine in London a month ago.” He proudly displays his tech accessory, paired with a chunky chain from Hermès and a black pearl and diamond bracelet from Shamballa. We walk to the Midtown flagship, peering into Crate & Barrel along the way. “It’s another of my favorite shops because I love cooking. I watched my mother closely to learn.”
At Nike, Caovilla makes a beeline for a pair of Air Max 90s in a new creamsicle hue. He asks for two pairs, one for himself and one for his wife. “The only important things are health and relationships,” says the designer, who has three children: daughters Maria Sofia, 5, and Delefina, 3; and a son, René, 8 months. “My daughters always ask me where I am going and say, ‘Can I come with you, Daddy? Can I work with you in the future?’ I hope they will like the business, but they must first work outside the company,” he says.
With Edoardo’s flight fast approaching we have time for one last stop: the shoe floor of Saks Fifth Avenue. With so many new footwear brands infiltrating the market, how does he deal with the increasing competition? “We have a historical heritage, but I am working to add modern shapes and touches. There is a lot of attention on design and marketing, but not enough in the middle of the chain, where the people work to make the product. We’ve started to invest a lot in those people. We are proud of them and want them to be proud of their jobs,” he says. “After all, for our customers, it’s not about price. It’s about falling in love with something special.” With that, I leave Caovilla in his element, surrounded by shoes.