Guillaume Henry, the handsome designer behind the revival of French couture house Carven, just ended a whirlwind trunk show tour of the US, visiting Barneys New York locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and yesterday afternoon, the store's Madison Ave flagship. This was the first time he's been able to meet his American customers, a rabid fan base that has grown rapidly since the label relaunched at a contemporary price point in Spring 2010. (A quick fashion history lesson: Carven began as a Paris couture house in 1945, known in the 1950s for dressing royals.)
"What's interesting is that they all wear Carven so differently in each city," he told Fashionista yesterday. "They all want different things."
And thus far, Henry's been able to deliver, with a mix of refined wardrobe basics inspired by 1950s couture, the era in which Carven was initially so popular. "Many of the shapes we use--the cocoon shape, the ballerina--are from that time. But we've updated them to look modern," he says. "Mrs. Carven wanted to be cool, and she was, but what was cool then is different from what is cool now. We want our clothes to be right for now." So while he's taken a peek into the archives to understand who the Carven lady was, those looks don't entirely define who she currently is.
As for how the house is able to bring couture-like garments down to a contemporary price point?
"A lot of work," says Henry. "It's always a secret with suppliers, but we have built good relationships with them." In fact, many of Carven's suppliers also work with today's active couture houses. But relationships can't be everything--a proper couture skirt is never going to cost $350. The solution? Less is more when it comes to bells, whistles, and unnecessary garment fasteners. "We always take off more than we add." A skirt will be lined in a decent polyester rather than silk, or designed so that no zipper is needed. "It's minimalist, but not boring."
What's next for Carven? March's runway show and the opening of the label's first store certainly top the list. But Henry's eagerness to connect with his customer indicates that he'll be popping up a CO-OP near you sooner than later.