BRIEF ENCOUNTERS GIORGIA CAOVILLA

Interview: shoe designer Giorgia Caovilla talks about her O Jour line

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2015, 6:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 2015, 6:02am

The enterprising daughter of Venetian shoemaker Rene Caovilla honed her craft with her father before launching her own brand. She recently opened her first flagship store in Beijing.

"I have a major client in Beijing and the opportunity arose to open my first O Jour flagship in China, and I think you have to follow what life offers you. It is not necessary for an Italian brand like my own to follow everyone else and open in Paris or Milan first. China is such an important market and I think my mid-heel shoes will do well there. It is now my plan to expand in Asia first with a shop in Japan in 2015.

My father is famed for his luxurious high heels, but customers were often requesting medium-heel shoes and so that became the central concept for my brand, O Jour.

Designing mid-heel shoes is very difficult, aesthetically speaking, as a high-heeled shoe always looks sexier than a lower heel, so that has been my challenge. My shoes (2cm-7cm high) can be worn 24 hours a day. The designs are feminine with bows becoming a design signature for me.

In my current collection, for example, there is a glamorous red satin shoe with a romantic bow on the side and a clutch bag with a big red ribbon, and I sell them in O-shaped hatboxes with lots of ribbons.

I grew up surrounded by the lush greenery and quiet of Riviera del Brenta, an area near Venice, where Venetians in the 18th and 19th century spent their holidays. The region is famous for its shoemaking, dating back hundreds of years, and this was where my grandfather started his shoemaking business. My father took over the business in the 1950s and made beautifully crafted haute couture shoes for Valentino and Christian Dior.

I left school in Padua and went to study law at university in Milan, mainly because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I took a gap year and went to New York to work for Ralph Lauren, and to learn English.

I was drawn to the liberal tastes of the United States and realised that nobody had heard of my father's beautifully embellished shoes. So I introduced his collection to America; it took a couple of years but the stores started buying [them] and by the time I left 50 per cent of my father's shoe production was selling there. We built up the collection together and opened boutiques in Milan, Paris and Rome - now there are 13 boutiques worldwide.

I was also creating and helping manage the business. I received the Premio Minerva Award in 2006 (a prestigious annual national prize awarded to the best female entrepreneur).

I had been working with my father for 11 years, and as I approached 40 I realised that if I wanted to do something of my own I had to do it now or never. I saw a marketing opportunity with the mid-heel shoes and launched O Jour in 2010.

I wanted shoes that matched my taste and lifestyle as a busy working mother unwilling to give up on femininity, glamour and comfort. I had two small girls [aged four and two] and society puts so much pressure on you to be a mother and a wife, but I also really needed to do something that made me feel good.

O Jour was launched in New York in 2010 (for spring-summer 2011) and the collection now sells around the world, but Shin Kong Mall is my first boutique opening. It has given my brand global status." As told to Francesca Fearon