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Carving out Carven

Guillaume Henry has the task of giving this fairly unknown ex-couture Parisian house a new identity.

There are now only a handful of former haute couture houses in Paris that could potentially go down the revival route in similar ways to the likes of Balenciaga and Balmain. Carven may not be a household name unless you're a fan of their perfume Ma Griffe but it was once a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and the house, set up by Madame Carven in 1945 had a reputation for dressing royalty. For spring/summer 2010, unburdened of its haute couture production, it will venture into ready to wear with a new creative director; Guillaume Henry, former assistant to Riccardo Tisci, as well as bringing to the table four years of experience at Paule Ka. Speaking to Henry about his intentions at Carven, we find out that rather than creating a huge fanfare over the house's revival, his main goal is to create clothes of understated luxury that, for want of a better word, are "charming". With clean lines, a youthful spirit and a distinct intuition to what women want to wear, the new S/S 10 collection should see the name Carven bounded about more next season.

Dazed Digital: What was your knowledge or understanding of Carven before you started the job?
Guillaume Henry: Actually Carven is not that well known in France. If you asked someone on the street, they wouldn't have any idea. It's recogisable for the perfume - especially for Ma Griffe and people would recognise the name from there.
For me personally I didn't have any image of the clothes at Carven.There's no fashion statement like there is at Balenciaga or Chanel. What I find interesting though is that the reason why Carven still exists after so many years is that Madame Carven was extremely clever in terms of marketing and the development of the brand. She was actually the first designer in France to dress actresses for movie premieres. During a break at a premiere, she would also put on a fashion show. I find this fascinating. When I first arrived, it was the freshness of the name that attracted me.

DD: There have been a few very notable rejuvenations of old fashion houses in recent years - do you feel like Carven could go in a similar direction?
Guillaume Henry: I wouldn't like to say it's similar. It's not about making a lot of noise of the relaunch of Carven and it's nice that it's low profile. I'm really interested in this notion of charm - something you don't see often in the fashion industry or perhaps it's considered 'uncool'. I'd like Carven to be recognised as sweet and nice but not too strong.

DD: What would you say is your own design aesthetic?
Guillaume Henry: I'd have to say discreet elegance. I like dresses but it doesn't have to be a costume. It's something you want to wear to straight away. You don't need make-up or strong hair. It's effortless. At Carven, we took off more than we added with the clothes. We like the idea of not making any distinction between day and night. It's more about living in the clothes.

DD: Did you look at the Carven archives at all when designing the first collection?
Guillaume Henry: Actually, the bits that I'm interested in the most are the photos of Madame Carven herself. At 35 years old, she's a really chic Parisian girl and there are pictures of her at the seaside with this fresh, sporty attitude mixed with a Parisian cliched chic. So at Carven, I'm thinking about the girl in mind as opposed to referencing the clothes.  

DD: How did your experience at Givenchy and Paule Ka contribute to the way you design at Carven now?
Guillaume Henry: At both appointments, it was about elegance. At Givenchy there was this idea of a laboratory and how to create a new fashion mood. At Paule Ka, it was about what women want and what does she need without sacrificing creativity. After a while though at Givenchy, I started to ask myself whether I really felt I knew who the women were. At Carven, whilst still being creative, we're offering a real wardrobe that is workable.

DD: In what direction do you want Carven to go given that it is no longer a haute couture house?
Guillaume Henry: The haute couture at Carven was too old-fashioned and not relevant. Of course, it will still exist for Dior and Givenchy where they really work at it and there is a business there. For me, ready to wear doesn't necessarily mean it's cheap. Couture can exist in a simple t-shirt where the hems are different and a lot of thought can be put in quite basic items. It's about integrity and always looking for that level of perfection.