PARIS — Carven’s new owner, Shanghai-based label Icicle Fashion Group, plans to expand the French label in its home country.
“They see very strong potential for the brand in China with its young, fresh couture, especially with the relaunching work that has been done and that should appeal to new generations of Chinese women,” said Isabelle Capron, general manager of the company’s French subsidiary Icicle Paris Mode.
The executive spoke to WWD Friday after a Paris commercial court selected Icicle to purchase Carven, closing a tumultuous bankruptcy chapter for the historic French house and thrusting an expanding Chinese label into the international spotlight.
“It’s an important moment for the company and for Carven, which had gone through a difficult period and we will do our best with this jewel,” Capron said, lauding the know-how of Carven’s workshops.
For Icicle, which sells its contemporary men’s and women’s wear with an emphasis on high-quality fabrics and an ecological bent mainly in China, Carven represents its first purchase of another brand and marks a key step in expansion abroad. “Carven fits the internationalization of the brand, accelerating it,” said Capron.
Relatively unknown outside of China, the clothing company was launched in 1997 by Ye Shouzeng, an alum and former professor of Donghua University, one of China’s best regarded fashion design schools, and Tao Xiaoma. The label operates more than 250 stores in China, including franchises, with prices reaching up to around $1,500 or more for larger pieces like outerwear. In 2017, the company posted a 23 percent rise in retail turnover, reaching 204 million euros.
Capron, a former Fauchon executive, was recruited by Icicle in 2013 after the company settled on Paris for a foothold in the West. That year it started building its design studios in the tony 16th arrondissement of the French capital, including a fashion studio, couture workshop, architecture department and marketing activities, counting around 30 employees. Capron describes the operations as a mix of employees from China and France with experience from French labels like Lacoste, Louis Vuitton, Chloé and Lanvin.
In 2017, a year after setting up its Icicle Space lifestyle concept store in Shanghai featuring fashion, art and food, the company bought a mansion at 35 Avenue George V for its first flagship abroad. It is due to open next year.
For eight months, Icicle has operated a private boutique on the ground floor of the Paris headquarters at 77 Avenue Raymond Poincaré. “For five years we have been working quietly to elevate the brand in China and also prepare to expand it abroad,” noted Capron. The executive described the plans to expand by buying another brand as “an opportunity that came up earlier than expected.”
Carven filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Paris Commercial Court in May, and was courted by Axara, Lee Cooper, Cashtex, Philippe Métivier, Market Maker and Red Luxury. In its statement announcing the planned purchase of Carven, Icicle said it “intends to relaunch and redeploy Carven’s brand, activities and collections in France, China and the international market.”
“Through this acquisition, the fashion house Carven will benefit from the substantial growth of Icicle Group, which brings strength and synergy to its development,” the company added. Financial terms were not disclosed, but it is believed the deal is worth several million euros.
“The French fashion house will maintain independence in its brand strategy and creation,” the group also said.
Carven was founded in 1945 by Madame Carven, born Marie-Louise Carmen de Tommaso, a peer of Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain. The famously petite couturier was known for traveling the world with her collections, and bringing back a trove of exotic influences. Purchased by Henri Sebaoun, the head of Société Béranger, in 2008, Carven had undergone a renaissance under his direction and the former artistic director Guillaume Henry, who positioned it as a contemporary brand. After Henry moved to Nina Ricci, the brand initially named Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud as artistic directors for the women’s collections, and Barnabé Hardy for men’s. Carven sold a majority stake to Hong Kong-based Bluebell Group in 2016 and suspended the men’s line that year.
Serge Ruffieux took the creative helm the following year. The designer hailed from Sonia Rykiel and Christian Dior, where he briefly served as co-artistic director with Lucie Meier. Drawing on the 250-piece-strong archive owned by Paris’ Galliera fashion museum for inspiration, Ruffieux offered fresh cuts with a mix of bohemian and bourgeois references in his first collections for the house.
But the planned revival was cut short as Carven and its parent company, Société Béranger, filed for bankruptcy this spring. The house, which had already been struggling financially, was hit with production delays and had to cancel orders, costing it several million euros. A spokesman at the time said the company counted eight shareholders including Bluebell, Turenne Capital and Sebaoun.
Asked about the future plans for the house design teams, Capron said the first step will be to get acquainted with employees. “We haven’t yet met the teams, so we will take time to meet them and listen to them,” said Capron.