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Mar 4, 2012
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Carven's young designer keeps it real

Mar 4, 2012

PARIS - If my own friends couldn't afford it, then something is wrong: that is the mantra adopted by Guillaume Henry, the young French designer who put the Carven fashion house back on the map.

On Thursday the 33-year-old sent out a fresh-coloured, clean-lined collection, showcased inside a former Paris convent on day three of the French capital's marathon of fashion shows for next autumn-winter.

Carven - AW 2012/13 - Photo: Pixel Formula

Like each season Henry created a complete wardrobe, though with a soft spot for dresses -- which he describes admiringly as the only garment "that men don't have, and that allows women to dress up in a single movement."

Short, ample-skirted dresses nipped the waist, but closed demurely at the neck, with fine slashes between the breasts that offered the tiniest glimpse of skin.

Skirts and bodices, in velvety leather or lace, were cut out to suggest a cathedral's stain-glass windows and there were flashes of fur, with coloured racoon collars or a caramel coat in lustrous rabbit.

A 1970s-style orange print was inspired by the apocalyptic "Garden of Earthly Delights", by the 15-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch -- minus the "goriest" details, explained the team backstage.

In-store, Carven's clothes range from "affordable to special treat," the designer, who took over at the brand in 2009, explained in an interview ahead of the show.

"We are not talking inexpensive, of course, because a 300-euro (400-dollar) dress -- for the girls I know -- is already a tidy sum.

"For a dress to wear for a very special occasion, we go up to 800 euros, but no higher."

So there are none of the 2,000- or 3,000-euro pieces that are common currency in the luxury ready-to-wear segment. And yet when it comes to creativity the brand is regularly put on a par with its high-end rivals.

For Carven, Henry's recipe has been a commercial success: the brand which didn't have a single sales outlet in 2009, now counts more than 400 across the world, from the United States to Japan, Britain and Italy.

When Henry joined its ranks, the French house's haute couture was showing signs of age. He made the switch to ready-to-wear, but continued to rely on an in-house workshop of traditional seamstresses.

"To bring out a collection in two months -- from the idea to presenting it to the press, you'd better have an army at your disposal," he said.

"With an outside workshop, you waste a lot of time," said the designer, who says he cannot imagine running a long-distance relationship with his suppliers, communicating over Skype to shape his clothes.

"A fabric is a living thing, you have to see how it moves, how it falls," he said.

Working this way, he says, means "you are exchanging all the time. Sometimes it takes eight attempts to get something right -- sometimes only two, and that's when it's magical."

But despite the luxury of working with an in-house team, the designer keeps a close eye on costs, in particular in his choice of fabrics, many of which he had factory-made to order this season "with our colours, our lines, our designs."

"Here, for instance, it is not silk but a mix of cotton and polyester," he said, showing off a piece from his collection.

"Bringing the price of the fabric down, allows us to keep clothes affordable -- which means they sell better and the manufacturer is happy too."

by Gersende Rambourg

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