When Nina Ricci hired designer Guillaume Henry away from Carven last fall to take over for Peter Copping, I thought, “Well, that’s smart.” Henry is a designer-for hire: he’s not looking to become a big star in his own right. Instead, he prefers to make name brands out of the labels he develops. With Carven, he took the precious couture shapes and fabrics that the house was known for and molded them into pieces that worked exceedingly well at advanced-contemporary prices. He launched a perfume, shoes and handbags. But most importantly, he established a modern identity for Carven.
Nina Ricci, an 83-year-old brand, whose mythology is unknown outside of the fashion business, could certainly benefit from some of Henry's magic. While Copping’s ultra-feminine and often-sexy looks were appreciated by many, there was never any real excitement around the idea of Nina Ricci as a storied French fashion house. At Lanvin, Alber Elbaz tapped into the feminist leanings of Jeanne. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld worships Coco. Henry made us care about Carven. Now, he must put the same sort of strategy into place at Nina Ricci.
The fall collection was shown in a small, fairly intimate room at the Centre Pompidou. Nina Ricci — from the namesake designer to Henry’s predecessor — has always been grounded in femininity. The designer honored that, turning out lace sheaths, narrow satin skirts, and pieced-together fur coats. But he also reveled in covering things up a bit, showing matching t-shirts and skirts in dazzling all-over sequins, pairing satin skirts with patchwork cable knit sweaters, and throwing a navy peacoat over a cream mock neck sweater and a lace skirt.
My fear was that Henry would steer too young: While Ricci’s customer is not ancient, she is also buying at designer prices — which means she likely has some life experience. Somehow, he managed to keep her in mind while offering a different vision that might appeal to a new sort of customer, too. It was a great effort, not just a great first effort. I look forward to seeing where he takes it next.