You’ve likely never heard the name René Caovilla before but you’ve probably seen the Italian shoemaker’s distinctive snake shoe coiling up the ankle of Bella Hadid.
Or Joan Smalls. Or Gal Gadot. Or in the case of Rihanna, who wore a custom pair, all the up to her thigh.
Stuart Weitzman’s Nudist sandal long reigned as the de facto red carpet sandal but Caovilla’s snake shoe, called the Cleo, is gaining ground. The rise of the blingy, verging on gaudy, sandal coincides with the decline of minimalism. Alongside the meteoric rise of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci, maximalist brands like Caovilla are finding new footing.
What’s unusual about Caovilla’s snake shoe is that the stars who wear it want to show it off. Shoes are generally hidden underneath a gown. Shoe publicists pray for a rainy red carpet so their client gets an unexpected moment to shine when the star has to hold up the hem of her gown to keep it from getting wet. But the Cleo is a shoe that celebrities wearing high slit gowns or mini dresses gamely thrust into the flashbulbs.
While the ascendency of the Cleo might seem sudden, it isn’t an overnight success. It never is. The success of René Caovilla’s snake shoe is nearly 100 years in the making. I visited the Caovilla factory outside Venice and talked to Edoardo Caovilla, the brand’s current creative director, to find out how it happened.
The Caovilla family has been making shoes in Fiesso D’Artico, a factory town outside Venice, for nearly a hundred years. The brand is currently under the creative direction of Edoardo Caovilla (he also serves as Chief Operating Officer), who is the third generation at the helm. His father, René Caovilla, still serves as president and the brand still bears his name. But it was Edoardo’s grandfather who started the company, and the archives boast shoes dating all the way back to his time.
In those archives—which I saw emerge from behind a remote-controlled mirrored wall in the factory showroom—you can see shoes the family made for Valentino Garavani and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. (The company no longer makes shoes for other labels.) Caovilla also likes to point out that the first red-soled shoe, pre-dating Louboutin’s famous soles, were made by Caovilla in the 1960s. Today, they favor a glittery sole.