Not many brands can claim to sell footwear of the exact same design for 40 years running. But with René Caovilla, it's a combination of creating a product with more to offer than just external beauty, and an emphasis on quality, that is testament to this achievement.
Stepping up as chief operating officer (COO) in 2009 and creative director in 2014 is Edoardo Caovilla, the third generation shoemaker heading the family-run business that hails from Italy. In his short time behind the wheel, his ability to juggle the integration of fresh ideas without diluting tradition and roots, is a feather in his cap.
In town for the debut of a Made-to-Order programme exclusively available at Pedder on Scotts, the astute Caovilla shares his direction for the heritage brand in the near future, and his beliefs that quality and craftsmanship are always king.
Fun fact: The last person to place the completed shoes in each René Caovilla shoebox is the artisan who crafted the very pair.
Some use technology to produce more shoes, but others, like us, use it to produce better shoes
When your grandfather first started making shoes, the focus was on couture and craftsmanship. How do you think the allure of those two qualities have changed over the years?
A change in quality standards over time is due to the advancement of technology. It has been used by companies in different ways. Some use technology to produce more shoes, but others, like us, use it to produce better shoes. As a result, there is a widening gap in the market when it comes to the quality of shoes, and it's only getting bigger. We're on the right side of it, and it's great because Asian customers in particular, are really understanding the importance of quality. Here's a titbit: In Asia, 94 per cent of luxury goods purchased online are based on quality. In the US however, 82 per cent of purchases are due to celebrity endorsements.
Tell us more about the craftsmanship of René Caovilla shoes, and how long it takes to finish a pair.
Craftsmanship has always been key for us. We're investing a lot in technology, and it's paying off as we're recognised as one of the top players in the market. Designs are personal; you might like one brand or another. Style is subjective, but quality is objective. Technology that can complement the capabilities of our artisans and allow them to create shoes at a level that was not possible in the past, is our aim. We don't want to replace these artisans, but to assist them.
As for how long it takes, it's really the generations of knowledge you need to make these shoes. If it were only in terms of hours, we would have been copied or replaced. But not everyone can do this, and it's a good strength to have.
How long does it take before your artisans are allowed to make shoes that are stocked in store?
At least four years. But, many of them have been doing it for 30 to 40 years.
Elaborate, precious and embellished. That was the DNA of the brand at the very beginning. Is that still your focus with René Caovilla today, and how have you adapted to the evolving preferences of consumers?
Having many travel experiences, I understand immediately that the new customer needs to feel appropriate, elegant and cool at all times — from the morning right up to the evening. This is why I've included running shoes, combat boots, and espadrilles at René Caovilla, and the response from customers has been really great.
Let's talk about you heading the brand. What is your plan for the near future, and where do you hope to take René Caovilla in the next five to ten years?
Wow, five years is enough for the many things we have lined up. We're developing our chain of retail shops here in Asia and we're expanding our product line to include bags. In a couple of years, the company will be listed. I believe that listed companies are healthier, and are able to attract better management. These are the main milestones for the next five years.
When can your customers look forward to purchasing the bags?
In spring/summer 2017, one year from now.
Your father René Fernando collaborated with brands the likes of Christian Dior and Chanel. Is this something that you're open to?
The industry recognised René Caovilla as a leader in terms of quality. Many brands today have revenues driven by accessories. They've always tried in the past, and are still trying now, to earn credibility and trust. Quite awhile ago, my father and I decided that it's not the time to work with other brands anymore, as they were paying us for the shoes, but not for the credibility and trust that we were giving them in the market. In terms of helping them, we'll gladly do it. As you know, the fashion industry is very small and we're all friends. We're definitely open to helping them build their reputation when it comes to quality. I'm not naming names, but there are some great brands with terrible shoes. We do some consultancy here and there, but we're focused 100 per cent on our own brand.
You have previously mentioned moving the brand in a younger direction. What have you been doing to appeal to a younger segment of the market?
It's funny, because I'm the youngest creative director and COO of the oldest company of our kind in the industry. I think I'm in a good position now, because I have the heritage, knowledge and tradition, and that's such a strategic asset for the future. In the meantime, I think the reality is that the average age of our customers is decreasing due to growing economies, coupled with the past generation's mindset to give the best to the new generation. Building a presence on the internet with social media and e-commerce belongs to the new generation, and that's what we're doing.
How important is it to listen to the customer?
Fundamental. Every single moment of your day is useful in understanding how new customers view luxury items. There is this famous saying by a philosopher: "You are not what you want to be, but what you do every day". I am involved in every element, every single day.
And with the exclusive Made-to-Order programme with Pedder on Scotts, it is a wonderful opportunity to customise shoes. What does the customer have power over?
They get to choose the material of the shoe, the colour of the Swarovski embellishments, and the heel height. It's the opportunity for them to create something that will mostly likely be one of its kind in the world. That is the draw, and together with Pedder on Scotts, it is a gift to our customers for their loyalty and immense support.
Click the slideshow for designs available under the Made-to-Order service.
Why Pedder on Scotts? Tell us about your working relationship.
It's based off human relationships. I've known Peter Harris, the president of the Pedder Group for a long time, and we trust each other a lot. We both know our own strengths which are complementary. Since we started working together five to six years ago, we've imagined many things we could do together, and this is one of them.
The René Caovilla Snake sandals are so iconic and have even been displayed at MoMa. What was the inspiration behind the design, and what does it represent?
When worn, the snake motif of our shoes sit on your ankle. In ancient Egypt and Rome, snake bracelets were worn on their upper arm to signify loyalty and belonging to the royal family. That was the idea behind it. Our customers have the snake around their ankle to show their belonging to the René Caovilla family. It is also a symbol of importance and we have been producing our Snake sandals since 1975, keeping it fresh with seasonal updates.
Many René Caovilla designs are perfect for eveningwear or red carpet events. How do you suggest women incorporate your shoes into everyday wear?
With the casual designs like the sneakers that have been performing so well worldwide, as well as the combat boots and espadrilles, women can wear them in the day and dress them up with earrings for the night.
The René Caovilla Made-to-Order programme is only available at Pedder on Scotts from 2 to 7 December, along with the launch of the Cruise 2016 collection.