Guillaume Henry Dresses Rihanna, Kristin Scott Thomas, Without Trying
Published February 28, 2011
In 2009, the relaunch of Carven was a long shot. At the time, the number of sleeping beauty couture houses repackaged with new designers was dizzying. But that was before the fashion world met Guillaume Henry. At 32, Henry will present his fourth collection for Carven at an in-house presentation during Paris Fashion Week this Wednesday; and in a few weeks, the first Carven shop will open at 36 rue Saint Sulpice in Saint Germain des Près. On the horizon for 2012 is the relaunch of Carven fragrances. Among the handful of young French designers to emerge after the 2008 financial crisis, he is unquestionably the star. On the weekend before the Carven presentation, Interview asked Henry what it’s like relaunching a storied label in 2011.
REBECCA VOIGHT: Carven has a past, but you’re here to give it a future. What’s that like, and who’s the new customer?
GUILLAUME HENRY: I couldn’t say anything precise, like, “I love blondes with green eyes who are five-nine.” People are talking about Carven, so I’m happy. It feels natural, and we’re evolving with the times. The collection is for a woman who has a young spirit, but she’s not necessarily a young woman. I don’t run into women on the street wearing Carven every day, but it’s funny when I see that in the same season we’re dressing Kristin Scott Thomas and Rihanna. Demi Moore dressed in Carven for the premiere of Ashton Kutcher’s new film. We didn’t plan this. They’re wearing the clothes because they want to. I never tried to attach the brand to celebrities. A celebrity dresses in a different look every day. I respect them as they’re artists, but it doesn’t mean anything.
VOIGHT: You did a Carven dress last summer for Paris vintage dealer Didier Ludot’s Little Black Dress collection. What have you learned from research?
HENRY: The idea there was for Didier Ludot and me to work on a dress that would combine Carven’s history, what it is today, and Didier Ludot’s Little Black Dress. He had a great Carven in very bad condition, and we gave it a facelift.
VOIGHT: Have you found other original Carven pieces that inspire you?
HENRY: This spring I wanted to do a blazer in vintage silk with a shantung effect. I started to look for fabrics, but I couldn’t find anything that was right. And one day I was at the Clingancourt flea market in Paris and I found the perfect jacket. I looked inside, and it was a Carven. It was in a couture fabric from the ’60s, in pure silk, and we remade it in a more technical way by adding polyester. Finding that jacket felt like time travel. In the past, “synthetic” meant cheap, but for me today it means functional and easy to live with.
VOIGHT: Carven is priced lower than most big Paris collections. Does success mean that will change?
HENRY: No, but we have enlarged the range. More pieces means more prices. We’re adding exceptional pieces, and we have more heavy materials, but we’re also keeping the accessible part of the collection. That doesn’t mean cheap or minimal. It has to have the same energy, but suit the wallets of my friends and real customers who don’t have a fortune to spend.
VOIGHT: What about accessories?
HENRY: We don’t want to get rid of things just to create something new. So we will have the shoes (by Robert Clergerie) in new materials, and each season there will be one or two new brothers and sisters. This season, there’s something like 12 bag styles and 8 shoe styles. We started really high, and now we’re doing boots and flats.
VOIGHT: What’s up for fall?
HENRY: For fall, it’s still very French, but there’s more engagement. I wanted something more artistic, with Parisian ’40s accents, university colors (bordeaux, reds, tartans) from the big schools like Harvard, and something from the Middle Ages. But of course you won’t see any of that because it’s all in my head. That’s just the initial idea before it’s all absorbed and what’s left in the clothes is just a color, pattern and a length.
VOIGHT: And your next challenge?
HENRY: That’s this Wednesday. But it’s not the same stress as the start. Now it feels like I’m inviting a bunch of good friends over for dinner and I’m worried about getting the recipe right.