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  • Aug 22, 2014
  • Updated: 10:04am

Revival instinct

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am

Carven's creative director Guillaume Henry says that for many markets the French couture house is a completely new player. And he's not wrong. Carven had its heyday in the 1950s, but since then the brand had all but slipped into obscurity.


Its resurrection as a modern, more affordable ready-to-wear label is largely down to Henry's vision for the new Carven girl. The fresh-faced Frenchman describes her as 'charming, with a twist', and she has hit a nerve with stylish women worldwide.


'I like it when it's not pretentious. The girl in Carven is the girl you want to talk to,' says Henry, who's in Hong Kong to celebrate the label's first boutique outside France.


The new Carven shop in The Landmark is a timely entry into the local market. As trendsetters in the city grow tired of the same big fashion houses, smaller contemporary French labels have been quietly making their mark. There is something to be said for the easy elegance that they offer.


In his three years at the helm of Carven, Henry has become a darling of the industry. After previous stints under Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Paule Ka, the designer is a welcome breath of fresh air in the world of ready-to-wear.


'The haute couture business is really sleepy now,' he says. 'Carven was considered modern in the '50s, so we had to think about what is modern today.'


Henry is talking not only in terms of product, but business as well. When the label approached him, Henry had already expressed the idea of changing the model from couture to ready-to-wear, and making it more accessible. It struck a chord with the owners.


'I answered super honestly,' he says. 'But that's what they had in mind. We had the same idea. They had the concept and I had the creativity to realise it.'


Carven was soon reborn as an affordable, chic line.


'I'm happy that the brand has a new life,' he says, 'I know what I like to do and I know what I don't like to do, so I'm just glad that people understand it.'


With the likes of fashion retail pioneer Maria Luisa Poumaillou calling the brand one to watch, Henry's standing in the fashion world has risen quickly. Natalie Massenet of Net-a-Porter has even compared him to a young Yves Saint Laurent.


'That's super good,' he says, laughing. 'But I'm sure every designer has been compared to another designer. I'm not a young Yves Saint Laurent - I respect him too much.'


Hailing from a rural family, Henry is slowly coming to terms with life as a celebrity designer. But he explains that he had a fascination for colours long before he even knew what fashion was.


After watching an Yves Saint Laurent catwalk show on television at the age of nine, he announced to his parents that he wished to pursue a career in fashion.


By the time he turned 18, Henry had moved to Paris to study his passion. After graduating, he launched his own label, which he closed after just three seasons. 'Frankly speaking, to launch a brand is the most difficult thing ever,' he says.


He was promptly recruited by Givenchy, where he worked for three years before moving to another successful French label, Paule Ka. The dark creative clout of Riccardo Tisci's Givenchy and the commercial prowess of Paule Ka were the perfect preparation for Henry to take on Carven. His simple yet effective strategy was to 'start afresh'.


'It's not about how the girl looked in the '50s, but rather what essence she brings to the room. We tried to catch the essence of the Carven girl, but to dress her differently.'


His most recent Paris show revealed a more mature, artistic side of the 32-year-old. Medieval prints and fabric cut-outs resembling stained glass windows set the tone for autumn-winter's 2012/13 collection. High, almost monastic, rounded collars complement feminine pinched waists and generous hips.


'When you do a fashion show, you have to be very precise and fresh, so sometimes there is this younger feeling,' Henry says.


'But for this collection, I wanted her to be tougher. I wanted it to be more about the mindset - a girl with no age.'


All sorts of creative influences inspire the designer, but Henry admits that there is a certain 'Parisian taste in the air; a way of mixing things together'.


'And this collection has been inspired by Catholicism,' he says. 'You shouldn't notice it at first, because I hid it. But when I was a child I went to church every Sunday. That builds something in your mind.'


The house has no physical archives to reference, but this seems to suit Henry's vision of relevant garments for contemporary times.


And while there is a definite couture spirit in the technical crafting of the pieces, Henry is determined to keep his clothes as affordable as possible.


'When I started, I had in mind all my good friends who would tell me, 'I'm sick of dreaming of things that I can't afford'. So I'm pleased that when they go to Carven - I mean it's definitely not cheap - but they can buy it.'


Increasingly, original looks that transfer well from day to night and fit into the modern woman's lifestyle have been growing in popularity, even among glamour-loving Hongkongers.


'If you go to a Carven shop, no matter how old you are, no matter what your body type, you should be able to find something that will please you,' says Henry.

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