Thursday, May 31, 2012

THE SECRET OF CARVEN'S SUCCESS AND THE ALEXA CHUNG FACTOR

Posted by Melanie Rickey, Fashion Editor at Large
Fashion dynamite: Alexa and Carven's Guillaume Henry (image from http://blog.shoppleasedonttell.com/)
Ask any journalist and they will tell you about the stories that got away. I'm not talking about the missed scoop (there are those too); I refer to the stories that get commissioned and written, and then for whatever reason - be it bad timing, more urgent news coming up, advertiser commitments or a combination of all three - they get repeatedly put on hold until they become out of date.  In others words: spiked.

Any passionate journalist with a bee in their bonnet about a story likes to get that story written, out the door and in print asap. Time is of the essence, so I have been getting increasingly teeth-grindy about a very timely piece I wrote for Grazia in February about the resurgence of the Parisian label Carven, with personal insights on the label's rightness-for-now by its self-confessed Number One Fan, a certain Miss Alexa Chung.

Mr Carven a.k.a Guillaume Henry (image from vogue.fr)
To my mind Carven's designer Guillaume Henry is a significant talent, and his work for the house is so on-the-button for fashion now because it is playfully cute as well as elegant and modern. The way he throws his looks together is pure fashion magic; and we can lay the trend for bejewelled collars, pinafore dresses and flatforms squarely at the door of his Parisian atelier.  It's little wonder he has been the bestselling label of the season across retailers including Net-a-Porter, my-wardrobe.com and Matches.

The story has been with the magazine for three months and has been scheduled numerous times, only for a more of-the-week story to usurp it at the last minute.  I'm sanguine about it all of course, because I have my beloved blog through which to share it with you. 

Alexa in Carven SS12 (image from http://blog.shoppleasedonttell.com/)
Following is the story exactly as written for Grazia; you'll see the way I write on here, and the way I write for Grazia are markedly different. House style shifts dramatically from publication to publication, and Grazia's tone is very specifically upbeat, informative and fun. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did to write it.  Interspersed through the copy are Carven's best-sellers of this season. And FYI, retailers love carven right now. Harrods' Head of Womenswear, Helen David told me

'Since the arrival of Carven at Harrods earlier this year, the brand has been phenomenally popular with our customers. Several pieces from the SS12 collection sold out within hours of being received, so we have reordered almost every style a few times over.  Carven has been so successful in-store and online as the collections are versatile, intricately crafted yet without the designer price tag, thus appealing to a very wide audience.’


WHY EVERYONE LOVES CARVEN
By Melanie Rickey

You’ve got to know a label is seriously happening when two of the world’s most influential fashion women are not only wearing it, but telling everyone how much they love it. Step forward Carven, and its designer Guillaume Henry; or as he tells us Brit girls, “just call me Guy.”

When Net-a-Porter founder and its chief fashionista Natalie Massenet first clapped eyes on the brand three years ago, it had zero stockists and the business consisted of three people in a dusty room in Paris looking for a break into fashion. This fact did not deter her from buying the collection immediately, and pronouncing that 32-year-old Henry had “the talent of a young Yves Saint Laurent.”

Cropped tweed jacket £550
For Alexa Chung, arguably the chicest 20-something on the planet, her Eureka moment came, typically, on a fashion shoot. “I was on a shoot for L'officiel magazine and the stylist had brought some detachable collars for me to use,” she told me. “The story was a 60s theme and not all the dresses were right so I ended up using the collars on everything. It was super weird because that item was exactly what I wanted at the time. I was thinking of making them myself before I saw his more perfect version, now Carven is my dream label.”

Now you’re probably thinking, “why have I never heard of Carven?” The reason is, of course, its relative newness to the 21st Century marketplace. In its present form it is three years old, still a baby, and only known by fashion insiders. A fact that is about to change this spring, as it hits its 500th stockist with a hit Spring collection chock full of pieces from zig-zag fit-and-flare dresses, cute poufy skirts, and neat little jackets creating waiting lists all over the world.
Mountain shorts £550 at Matches

Fashion buffs will know, however, that Carven has history. The diminutive 5 foot 1” tall Madame Carven inaugurated her Haute Couture house in Paris in 1945, and her elegant fashion was designed expressly with the petite chic of Paris in mind.

Over the years the label ground to a halt, until all that remained was the house perfume, Ma Griffe. When Guillaume Henry was hired to the job in 2009, he had literally nothing to take inspiration from expect the little trademark Peter Pan collars and cuffs Madame Carven and now Alexa Chung and her fashion fans love to wear.

So what is going right with Carven? Guillaume Henry is what. This young designer who trained at both high fashion house Givenchy and everyday fashion label Paule Ka has truly got the knack of understanding how to walk the line between creating clothes that look like fashion, yet you can wear them all the time for any occasion.

As worn above by Alexa... Lace dress £590 at Net-a-Porter
Just ask Alexa, who says she wears Carven “24/7”. In fact I’ve never heard her speak more passionately about a fashion label. “Carven really is my dream label. I love how they layer things, how they make ugly cropped sweaters in strange prints, how everything is new but classic. I adore their shoes, I live in their coats and I'm always very very excited to see what he does next.”

The feeling is mutual of course. “I LOVE her. She’s fantastic and super inspiring. I saw her the first time and you see her body and then you hear her husky voice. I love contrasts. I love that is chic and tough, and doesn’t do that whole “sexy girl” thing.“

“The thing with Monsieur Henry,” continues Alexa, “is he knows what modern women want. His clothes are practical but beautifully crafted and quirky enough that you feel amazing wearing them and as though you look interesting.”
Cute jacquard dress £575 at Harrods
Another thing: they are not outrageously expensive. Carven fits into the “contemporary” fashion category between high street and high fashion.

So what is Guillaume Henry’s secret? I ask him what he thinks it is. “Well, for me Carven is about freshness, spontaneity, smiling elegance. You know, some designers create and imagine a woman, a customer, and that’s great – but it’s not for me. I design for my mother, my friends; someone going to work, with children, going out at night – women I know.”

“I am always asking myself: who is the girl? Where is she living, how is she working? What’s her face? What kind of life does she have? At the end of the day, I want my products to have their own life. I love it when I hear about different people wearing the same pieces. Recently, with the same dress, we dressed Rihanna and Isabelle Huppert. They’re so different. Once I had a call from a friend and she was at the supermarket and she was wearing a cropped jacket and she told me there was a lady near her who was about 60 and she was wearing the same jacket. It’s fantastic!”
Pink contrast skirt £304 at Matches


I can’t help but agree. If you look at the Carven pieces available on net-a-porter and my-wardrobe.com, you can see exactly what Guillaume Henry is trying to do. It is cute pieces – a flecky knit with a peter pan collar, a sweet peplum T-shirt, a shrunken yellow blazer - that have the touch of high fashion and a touch of the everyday; and they’re just a bit geeky too which means they can go in the direction the wearer takes them.
We can’t help agree just a little bit she Alexa says of our new best friend Guy Henry, “I hate him....because he's perfect.” We dare you not to fall in love with his clothes.

Ends

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