For some, René Caovilla might fly below the radar of other better-known shoe brands, such as Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik, most likely due to the fact that Jennifer Lopez never sang about it and HBO’s Sex and the City never fetishised its wares. Which doesn’t mean René Caovilla’s history is any less star-studded. J.Lo has sported the brand’s signature crystal-embellished snake-coil design, as have other well-heeled fashionistas like Rihanna , Bella Hadid, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian, often while walking the most high-profile red carpets in show business . Did she choose a British or Italian designer? Inside Kitty Spencer’s royal wedding A family business founded in 1928 in Fiesso d’Artico, just outside Venice, by Edoardo Caovilla, Maison Caovilla flourished in the traditional shoemaking hotbed whose history dates to the 13th century calegheri – the shoemaker’s guild. Nestled alongside a branch of the Brenta river that connects Venice and Padua, Caovilla opened his first workshop in 1934, to this day the brand’s home. Edoardo’s son René took over the business in 1960, welcoming his own son (also called Edoardo) into the fold in 2009 to prepare the brand that now bears his name for the future. As president, it was René who steered René Caovilla to elite status. After studying design in Paris and London, he retuned to Venice to modernise operations and ensure the label would be defined by innovation as well as style. I believe that the Cleo sandal is more than just a shoe; it is a work of art, which is why it was on display at MoMA … It is not replicable, and timeless René Caovilla “More than a family business, designing shoes is a family passion,” he explains. René Caovilla has always been ahead of the curve – the atelier once designed shoes for Valentino and Chanel under Karl Lagerfeld – and long before Prada or Louboutin did it, its soles were red. In 1969, René Caovilla created the iconic Cleo, the stiletto recognisable for the sparkling strap that snakes up the ankle and calf. Inspired by the coiled serpent motif found in ancient Rome, the shoe was exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1975. Since then, the Cleo has made red carpet appearances on Bella Hadid, Gal Gadot and Rihanna, who had custom Cleos made to track up to her thigh. Shoes: the devil is in the (ankle) detail – just ask Kylie Jenner On this side of the Pacific, supermodel He Sui and actress Zhou Dongyu have sported René Caovilla at various events. The first shoe to embrace the bling of precious stones and fine fabrics, the Cleo elevated footwear to a new level and the glitterati were biting. Caovilla, however, prefers not to pay celebrities to wear his shoes, instead creating strong relationships with stylists. He also feels no need to have every influencer on Instagram in a pair of Cleos – or anything else. “I believe that the Cleo sandal is more than just a shoe; it is a work of art, which is why it was on display at MoMA,” says Caovilla. “What makes a work of art is its uniqueness, the fact that it is not replicable, and timeless, and I believe that the Cleo is exactly that.” The point of his shoes is also to foster aspiration. “Every woman dreams of having a precious jewel to have and keep forever, and so it is with my shoes. They represent the dream that every woman would like to have on her feet, just like a piece of jewellery.” For Caovilla, artistry and skill are the driving forces behind both his designs and the construction of René Caovilla footwear, many of which are still exactingly handmade in Italy. Inspiration strikes often and easily in Venice, a city brimming with what he calls local beauty, where “every detail, from church rose windows to mosaic floors” can have an impact. Good shoes are rare and, according to Caovilla, should precisely balance desirability and craftsmanship. As such, the workshop reflects an artisanal mindset, where veterans work alongside the younger generations that will carry the brand forward. Which Olympic team gets the gold for most fashionable uniform? “Making superb shoes is about more than mere technique. It demands artistry, virtuosity, skill and an interpretive talent that only the truly great master artisans possess,” Caovilla says. By the same token, new technology is crucial, and Caovilla has embraced it. Manual finesse and tech coexist to ensure each pair of shoes is a “triumph”. Though Caovilla still designs shoes himself, he collaborates with a crew to “realise and concretise the ideas by defining all the technical and stylistic details that give life to the prototype of the shoe”. Those ideas also draw on the brand’s archives, frequently reimagining classics, like the Biker Cleo for autumn, where the signature stones snake is transplanted onto the “winterised” boot. Caovilla acknowledges that the footwear business has evolved since 1934, beyond simply going digital. To future-proof itself, René Caovilla engages on channels from Facebook to Weibo, and continues to expand its stable of bricks-and-mortar shops from traditional European locations to include Doha, Dubai and Beijing, while Hong Kong’s Harbour City boutique is now open. Which celebrity has the most expensive engagement ring? No fashion label would be complete without a legacy piece. Chanel has No. 5 . Yves Saint Laurent has the Mondrian dress. Caovilla says he is comfortable with the Cleo serving as René Caovilla’s. “The Cleo sandal is certainly the one that best represents our maison. It encapsulates the originality, craftsmanship, creativity and origins of the brand, over the years has taken on various shapes and colours, survived fashions and trends and is still one of our bestsellers.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .